Chris Bangle: The Man that Saved BMW?

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Chris Bangle is leaving BMW after creating nothing short of a revolution. He may not have directly designed the cars during his tenure at BMW but he inspired the design team to create an entirely new design language and he inspired the public to think about automotive design in a deeper way than they ever had before.

I am unapologetic in my admiration for Chris Bangle and his ideas on form and how it relates to our lives. As someone who inspires in the field of design he ‘s almost unequalled. I challenge you to listen to any of his lectures (a few can be found on iTunes) and not be blown away by the intelligence, enthusiasm and grace that you hear. And don ‘t overlook that hint of humility in his voice either. This is a man who has weathered the most fierce criticism imaginable for a man in his shoes and come out with nothing but a grace and humility. Two attributes that are not readily found in any field of design.

Bangle ‘s design team did not always create the most beautiful cars on the planet. The E65 7 Series is not a classically pretty design; but what it does do is create tension in the way that the world ‘s greatest architecture can. It begs the question: Why does everything have to be classically beautiful? Good design evokes emotion and lasting appreciation. It is engaging and full of character brought on by human solutions to real issues. Strip away the pretense of beauty and look at the problems that Bangle (and Hooydonk – the designer of the E65) were solving and you start to appreciate the level of complexity and thought behind every form. And it ‘s not just solving problems but creating a form language and an iconic look (that works at both a psychological and technical level) that Bangle succeeded at with this and every product under his eye at BMW.

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In most ways I would call the 2001 E65 more modern than any large sedan on the road today – including the newly released F01 7 Series. It ‘s not only a statement, but a purity of concept and form that is unapologetic in the role it served as a revolutionary product.

In recent years Bangle talked a lot about a paradigm shift and his concern that the industry (and other designers) weren ‘t looking far enough into the future. He showed the world what that future was with the Gina concept and kept preaching that the automotive industry was lagging in regards to true innovation.

My favorite lecture from Bangle was from an impromptu discussion he had with some design students about automotive design (Transcribed for your enjoyment):

In the early days a car was just mobility, it was just not a horse. It was the “not horse ” solution. As that moved to the 30 ‘s the car remained the symbol of your connection to the future. “Of course you had to have the newest car, you buy what is coming out next year. It wasn ‘t important it was reliable – it illustrated your connection to the future and communicated my social status.

That changed massively when popular culture rejected the idea of pure voluptuous sculptural statements and said “I ‘m paying a lot of money for these things and I want safety and reliability. There ‘s no room for my cup and the rest of my stuff! “

This coincided with a major shift in auto production to full automation processes. At that same time people decided that the most important thing to them was a badge. People started to lease cars rather than buying them to acquire that all important badge of BMW or Mercedes.

All of these major changes bring us up to where we are today. And if you look at the time-scale we ‘re coming up on, you ‘ll see that major manufacturing technology is starting to run their course and there ‘s a big movement into rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing. That will make a huge difference.

Additionally there ‘s a huge demand to bring the human back into the loop and make the human contribution much more visible and understandable. People are also demanding much more emotion from their cars. Brands are too.

This all leads to a paradigm shift and I wonder if that (with rather nice timing) lead to Chris Bangle simply saying that he ‘s ready to let the next generation of thinkers solve these issues.

If so I ‘d say that his rest is well earned. The world will miss Chris Bangle more than it knows.

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  • Parker

    Brought a little tear to my eye. Thank you.

  • bmw

    hahaha! saved? BMW didn’t needed to be saved. Chris Bangle, the man who made sell so much 3 series that now owning one is like owning a Honda Civic.

  • davidgo

    i remember him talking some time ago about getting out of the same sausage – different size bit, and he talked about all future BMW’s coming from two different bookends of design the x coupe concept and the z9 concept. it has been interesing to see how that has played out in all the new models. he’s very talented and intelligent. i hope BMW continues to be a design leader without him. i personally think we are already back on our way to same sausage different size again. very nice article

  • Ben

    Well said. Chris Bangle has long been one of the best designers I’ve known. Thank you. (Also, owning a 3 Series will NEVER be similar to owning a Honda Civic.)

  • Adam L.

    Any design student can really appreciate what he has done for the industry. I especially love when you spoke about classical beauty, if everything has to be classically beautiful then all cars on the road would look like Audi’s!! God forbid (lol).

    There is nothing wrong with classic beauty but as you said there is no emotion either. I look at the S5 while it looks good, it just blah to me, everything is predetermined, foreshadowed, predictable (I feel the same about the 3 series coupe, thus my 335 sedan) nothing is there to engage you too look further, to see how different lines in the car attribute to the whole sum of the car. Automobiles as long as I can remember loving them have always been about emotion for me and It will never be a rational decision for me until a wife or kid get into the picture.

    Thanks Cris for all the work you’ve done!

  • JonPD

    Love his designs or hate them one thing is for sure, Chris Bangle had a huge impact on the design language of the automotive industry. Whats kinda funny is more of the reviews I’ve seen on the post flame surfacing designs have talked about the more mainstream and somewhat boorish design of BMWs. I can say while he was working with BMW they had some of their best and worst designs ever. For me personally the first gen Z4 Coupe is the best looking design ever from BMW. The X6 has to be one of the worst designs, I have a strong distaste for coupe roof lines with SUV bodies.

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