Former BMW chief designer Chris Bangle has strong feelings about the future of car design. He believes companies should be doing more to stand out from their rivals. This includes doing away with something he was once in charge of at his former employer: establishing a common design language for the entire brand.
"I would say that was my main job, to maintain that phenomenon for my years at BMW. We did our job as best we could. I believe that now it is time to move on," he told me at the Geneva auto show last month. "The reason for that is it's too much of a spiral into banality. People use words like DNA and they don’t really understand what they are talking about."
Since departing from BMW in 2009 after more than 16 years with the automaker, the 61-year-old American founded Chris Bangle Associates. In his new role, he recently posed a tough question to a client who told him his goal was to define the brand's DNA: "Can you even tell me what that small percentage is that makes your brand different from somebody else's when you are manufacturing the same way and the suppliers are all the same guys?"
When asked for examples of cars that define what he means when speaking about breaking away from having a brand DNA he provided two: the original Ford Mustang and the Nissan Juke. "There was no guy in Ford saying, 'We are going to take the Ford DNA and make this car.' They looked at young people and said, 'What do they want to buy? Excitement. Give me excitement,'" Bangle said.
With the Juke, he said what makes it great in his eyes is that it’s nothing like its sibling models in the Nissan lineup. "You show me where there is Nissan DNA in the car. That car is completely idiosyncratic. I would say that the Juke is definitely an icon that other cars have had to react to," Bangle said.