Chris Bangle surprised many when he quit as BMW's design boss in 2009 to become an independent designer outside the auto industry. He is working on electronics products from a studio in the Langhe hills of northern Italy. Bangle, 56, still has strong views about car design, which he thinks is standing still in a fast-moving world. He spoke with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Claire Bal.
Do you see anything interesting in car design today?
No. We're in a phase I would call 'mannerism.' People are using many of the same approaches and elements that they have in the past. There is a real need for a change and that's just not happening. Even concept cars today simply anticipate the next production model coming down the line. Is this innovation? No. This is preventing car design from moving into a new era.
Have your services been sought by other carmakers since you left BMW?
Yes, as a director, quite a few times – and I've always refused. Designing cars consumes you. It has a hold on your spirit, which is incredibly powerful. It's not something you can do part time, you have do it with all your heart and soul or you're going to get it wrong. BMW was fantastic. I loved every minute of it. But you have to know when to leave the party. I think I understood what it means to let go, which is something I wish many other design managers would learn. So when people ask me 'Wouldn't you like to go back into the industry?' I reply: 'Tell the old guys to get out and let the next generation come through!'
Do you still do some work on cars?
We have had some very small connections with cars, but I'm not hammering on doors looking for that type of work. One of the first projects we took on at Chris Bangle Associates was something entirely different, the redesign of Hennessy Cognac's Privilege bottle. Like the Mini project at BMW, the challenge was how to treat an iconic product with respect. You don't want to devalue the past in any way, but at the same time you're trying to create an instantly recognizable product for the future.
Do you admire the neatness of Walter de' Silva's designs for Volkswagen?
Simplicity is nice – until you fall asleep. When did you last read a book cover that recommended you read it because the story was simple? We all want things in our life to have character. We want stories that are gripping. I'm quite ready for a world in which there are different kinds of cars, both simple and complex, but I'm never happy with insipid design. Yes, Walter's designs are very 'neat.'
Reports say you're working with Samsung. After designing cars, are tablets and mobile phones easy?
I won't go into the work we're doing but believe me, what we are working on is anything but easy! The car companies are basically fighting the Napoleonic war. Everybody knows who everybody else is. But the guys in consumer electronics are fighting a 'friendemy war,' one in which my friend is my enemy. I'm a supplier but I'm also your competitor. There's no sense of 'generation' because everything is happening so fast. It's a completely different world.