It has been five years since the Bangle bashing started. When the current-generation BMW 7 series was introduced, its distinctive -- and controversial -- rear end generated so much criticism that many feared Chris Bangle -- the flamboyant American-born BMW design chief -- would lose his job.
Traditionalists believed that the familiar, elegant Bavarian sedans should not be disgraced by revolutionary new BMW models with starkly different features such as concave surfaces, brutal front-ends and asymmetrical graphics. But each new model following the 7 series brought equally unconventional shapes and features.
Critics howled. But after a half-decade, car buyers have proved that Bangle was right and the purists were wrong. BMWs sell better then ever.
Owning a Bangle-era BMW has become a status symbol in its own right. The car owners don't care whether their neighbors like their BMW.
It is clear BMW not only is going to keep its new design trend it will extend it into its next-generation models. The innovative Concept Coupe Mille Miglia 2006 shows us what to expect from BMW in the future.
Since his arrival in Munich 12 years ago, Bangle has done more than just develop a design strategy -- he has created an infrastructure to support it. He has nurtured three distinct and separate brand design teams (BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce), given more freedom to BMW's advanced studio and turned the carmaker's US studio into a breeding ground for new ideas.
BMW's gutsiness when it comes to design extends to how it treats its stylists and their work. Most carmakers hide their design talent and let well-dressed design managers tell the corporate design story in politically correct language.
This safety-first approach means that many so-called concept cars are no more than pre-production prototypes. These cars don't spark the public's imagination because they are simply marketing tools that shout: "Don't buy our competitor's model because this will be available in six months."
By contrast, Bangle finds and grooms young designers then lets them express their creativity without compromise. He also puts the young men and women who do the actual job in the spotlight.
The result is not only a transparent car design process. It also addresses a buyer's natural curiosity about who designed the car.
A designer's signature adds to the character of a car. And that sells, even if the design does not appeal to everyone.
Correspondent Wim Oude Weernink can be e-mailed at [email protected].