Editorial: Bangle’s Legacy

Others | December 28th, 2009 by 49
chris bangle bmw Editorial: Bangles Legacy

Regardless of popular sentiment, from either pole, Chris Bangle has had a significant impact on BMW. His retirement in March of 2009 marked the end …

Regardless of popular sentiment, from either pole, Chris Bangle has had a significant impact on BMW. His retirement in March of 2009 marked the end of a decade and a half of service designing automobiles for the Munich manufacturer.

Some believe Bangle mangled the butt of the E65 7, and flamed out by applying flame surfacing on the Z4, but what really should his time at BMW be remembered for.

Maybe looking at BMW styling before Bangle would be helpful. BMW design since the stunning CS coupes of the late 1960s had been conservative and getting more so as time progressed, with conservative being a polite way of saying dull.

chris bangle bmw 655x436 Editorial: Bangles Legacy

While BMW’s power trains and driving dynamics were the envy of other manufacturers, its styling was not causing sleepless nights for their rivals. As Bangle’s influence increased, that changed. Styling cues that shouted ‘BMW’ started appearing on a number of Asian vehicles.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then even the Bangle butt was admired by the Koreans, as it showed up on the Hyundai Grandeur (US market Azera). Styling at BMW emerged and blossomed, playing an important role in enhancing the desirability of the brand.

While taking heat for styling cues like flame surfacing and the Bangle butt, those designs need to be put in context. When a manufacturer looks at their portfolio of product, they are more likely to take chances on design at the margins of the brand. The core products will be ‘safe’. For BMW that means the 3er, 5er and (for the US) the X5, must appeal to the broadest audience possible.

The idea is to introduce design direction in the niche products, preparing the way for their adaptation in more mainstream products (or, conversely, their quiet exit from the palate of design ideas). BMW managed to do that effectively with its niche products, while selling plenty of appealing 3s and 5s.

What Bangle has done at BMW, more than any pen to paper exercise, is to build a design staff that embraces passion and beauty which then clothes the driving dynamics of BMW. That is the legacy of Chris Bangle.

49 responses to “Editorial: Bangle’s Legacy”

  1. Doug says:

    He also has excellent hair.

    • Horatiu B. says:

      lol nice hair design

    • Sajan says:

      Love him or hate him, He has made a lot of money for BMW and no-one can deny that.
      I am a huge BMW fan and yes I do miss the days of the 2002s and the e30s, but the fact of the matter is, BMW had to progress in their design in order to compete with other car manufacturers. BMW needed to experiment and it has proven successful for them. BMW’s look modern and fresh. They put Audi’s designs to shame, and they make them seem bland compared to BMW.
      Porsches are beautiful cars, but they need updating like Chris Bangle did with the BMWs. They are starting to look old, outdated, lazy and boring.

  2. Bangled says:

    I think he was great.

    In the era just before Bangle’s Bustle on the 7er many designs from competitors seemed derivative. They were content to let BMW lead the charge and then follow suit. With the advent of the new 7, 5, and Z4 there was a definitive break with the status quo. It was impossible for the competitors to follow suit. Within this independent design space BMW was able to refine the new language while retaining key design cues which further differentiate a BMW from other cars. The result is a second generation Z4 which is superb, a graceful 7 worthy of its heirs, and an absolutely stunning new 5.

  3. X5SoB says:

    My opinion has been this for a while now, and I’ve said in numerous comments that Bangle designs helped BMW maintain and grow market share. I’ ve also pointed out that previous to Bangle the styling of BMWs was far too “safe” and that this malady had afflicted the Jaguar XJ for at least one generation too many, resulting in poor sales. For far too long BMW fanboys have derided Bangle’s style and longed for “the good old days”, but, the fact is that the buying public voted overwhelming in favor of Bangle, with their wallets. It’s nice to see an editorial that says much the same thing. Long live the E65 and E60!

  4. X5SoB says:

    Plus, nice watch!

  5. Wolfer says:

    Right on, it takes courage to admit that Bangle was correct all along. The old bmw had stale designs and Bangle was the right person to shake things up. Like it or not, his transformation has had a profound impact on car designs that will last longer then his tenure at BMW.

  6. Shawn says:

    Great article Hugo, very well written.

    Speaking of the “Bangle Butt” it was copied at large by both Mercedes in the S Class and by Maybach – its most significant imitation and flattery.

    I agree that overall, Bangle was a positive force during his time with BMW. I must admit however, that I am feeling great with Adrian Van Hooydonk at the helm. The new 5 is flawless, and I’m very excited for the new 3 – I think great things are in store.

    • bob says:

      The Maybach first appeared as a concept at the ’97 Tokyo show.

      One could argue that BMW was doing ‘Bangle Butts’ before Bangle; look at the E30 M3 vs. the standard E30. BMW M GmbH did that for aerodynamics, yes?

      Within BMW there are three ‘partners’ in the design process: Design, Aerodynamics & Packaging. All three had their input for the E65.

  7. Auday says:

    Personally I still can’t stand looking at the E65 before the face lift, I cant believe any design supervisor would let such an ugly face go on the street. It became much better after the face lift but I still cant like it, same for all other Bangle’s era cars. They just lack the grace and elegance, and look rude and vulgar, … off course this is totally subjective so others might feel exactly the opposite.

    IMO being genuine and new doesn’t mean being offending, take Aston Martin for example, they are unique and highly artistic. If you put the E63 M6 side by side with a DB9 or a Vantage you would know what I mean. If BMW kept the elegance of the E31 in the new 6 it would have probably been something comparable to the Astons.
    The new BMWs might not be eye catching, but they have an elegant look on the rood and I admit they are growing on me quickly unlike Bangle era cars which I still can’t like .

  8. michael says:

    I can remember reading a review when the current generation 3 series came out pretty much slating Bangle for playing it “too” safe. I think the market (particularly here in Australia) was expecting something as controversial as the 5 series and the 7 series. It’s also interesting to see that when BMW took the safe route with the 3er – the sales dropped here.

    I have great admiration for Bangle mostly for selling his ideas to the corporation that is BMW but also for his designs. The current generation 6 series is a thing of beauty :)

  9. Brookside says:

    Bangle and BMW were a good fit for the first decade of the 2000’s. What they both had going for them was a climate of global financial optimism. Credit was easy to come by and it filtered out to the middle class in Western nations; access to more money and more credit. What BMW did was devise a sales structure that expanded it’s product availability to more people under favorable terms for the customer….especially for U.S. consumers.

    Bangle’s designs (or more accurately), his stewardship of BMW design reflected that optimism and reinforced the cache of BMW’s desirability by creating a visual sense of exclusivity….one that was immediately noticeable and implied that if you didn’t think it was cool then you’re simply not culturally informed.

    If you watch any of the videos produced by BMW back in that era, there’s Chris Bangle bopping around the latest model with his little hipster patter talking animatedly about design being art.
    That BMW’s are sculpture- that his designs had antecedents in avant-garde 20th Century art movements such as constructivism and futurism.

    He was epoch-defining and we are still talking about him. The guy’s a winner.

    • XC says:

      My thougths exactly. Well put.

    • XC says:

      Just yesterday I walked pass by a pristine white E85 Z4, and I realised how beautifully made and designed that car is. Great Bangle design.

      • bob says:

        I agree, XC. The E85 represents a significant mark in 21st century auto design. Tho, as we all know, lots of people really hate it…Not dislike, but hatred.

        As we talk about CB’s legacy, Anders Warming should be included. “Bangle Butt” is a misnomer, since it was Adrian van Hooydonk who actually did the E65-66 & E63-64…”van Hoodwink Hump”, perhaps?

        With AW’s E85 and Chris Chapman’s X Coupe concept car (done later, but debuted earlier), “Flame Surfacing” entered BMW lexicon. Both AvH & AW are still there.

        AvH gets most of the pub, but AW’s story is interesting as well. AW was 25 or 26 when designed the E85 at Designworks/USA (AvH was Pres. of DW at the time); then he left BMW for VW in ’03. In a seemingly unusual-for-BMW move, CB rehired him in ’05. He did the Mille Miglia Concept Coupe. To my eye, the general design language that includes the E85-86, X Coupe, Mille Miglia, H2R & GINA would appear to be of importance to BMW internally. In ’07, AW was promoted to Head of Exterior Design – BMW Cars, following Boyke Boyer’s retirement.

        There’s a possibility that CB’s legacy will have to include AvH’s & AW’s eventual efforts.

        • atr_hugo says:

          DesignworksUSA was picked up from Chuck Pelly, no slouch of a designer himself. When Chuck Pelly was a kid outta art school he designed the front engined sports racer Scarab for Lance Reventlow. Nice that a serious design group, BMW, has the keys to the place now.

          • bob says:

            Yes. DW is another important part of CB’s legacy.

            It might seem curious, or even silly, to some that a BMW-owned entity is involved designing assorted product like cell phones, lawn mowers, furniture, espresso machines, aircraft interiors, etc.; but, it’s a way, a for-profit way, for BMW to be in touch with how the world as a whole views design.

            What other auto maker has demonstrated this kind of foresight? Brilliant!

          • atr_hugo says:

            Bob said: What other auto maker has demonstrated this kind of foresight? Hugo replies: Porsche, IIRC. ; -) But heck that was a design outfit before it became a manufacturer.

            I suspect that by being involved in products other than cars they can keep up with trends better.

        • bob says:

          CORRECTION! Henrik Fisker was Pres. of DW when the E85 was approved. AvH transfered from Munich to DW in ’00, and succeeded Fisker as Pres. in ’01. I regret the error.

  10. atr_hugo says:

    Brookside – Jim, well said – more please! Where do you see design headed in the current zeitgeist?

  11. Brookside says:

    Thanks Hugo, & thanks for the article.
    I couldn’t tell you where it’ll go- it really depends on the suits….who they hire & who and what they envision. It’s all about money. Design is tied to pleasing the corporate mentality when it’s executed on the financial scale of automobile companies.

    Bangle was almost a fluke of history….perfect storm and all that.

  12. Gord says:

    Bangle has a nice watch….

    but aren’t cars like the new 7 and 5 series designed/influenced by Bangle too ? I say this because normally the cars would be designed years before lauch.

    • Tom says:

      that is true..
      does anyone know if he had an input?
      i feel like the new 5&7 are a totally different design style that he couldnt possibly be apart of.

      • bob says:

        The F01-02 & F10-11 are his directions, as are the E89, F07 and every other upcoming member of the current generation, E84, F12-13, F25, F20 & F25.

        A simple test would be, Does it lresemble the Concept CS that debuted at Shanghai? The Concept CS (’07) foreshadowed the design language for the current generation, much like the Z9 (’99) & X Coupe (’01) did for the last generation.

    • Ramon Juarez says:

      Maybe not that, but they want to keep the “Bangle Legacy” and the new cars are, seen that way like a huge (but still) facelift from the previous generation and new designers take the old one as a base for the new one.

    • bob says:

      Yes, Gord, it’s measured in years.

      At the E89’s US media event earlier this year, one BMW NA type (Martin Birkmann?), stated that each BMW car has a “Critical Path” that lasts five years prior to SOP. Everything has to be ready at its appointed time…Design, computer simulations, various levels of prototypes, testing, retesting, productiuon tooling, dealing with suppliers, financing all of the above…everything.

      As for design, Sr. Interior Designer, David Carp, in a piece that BMW put on bmwgroup.com stated that a car’s design can take up to sixty months. As one could imagine, at some point, “design freeze” takes in, where no more substantive changes can be made (BIW-realted?). As I understand it, this now takes place approx. 2 1/2 prior to SOP. Prior to that, a design has to be signed-off upon. Former Chmn, Dr. Helumt Panke, told Automobile magazine that that process itself takes several months to a year.

      Time = Money, of course…So, I’m sure that BMW is making every effort to shorten those processes but, still, it takes a ton-o-time…and a whole boatload of euros.

      Current example. Right now the F07 is hitting the dealerships in the US. I saw it for the first time Sunday. Exterior designer, Christopher Weil, has said that his intial sketches for what would become the 5 Series Grand Turismo were greenlighted in ’05.

      By the way, “BMW Z4: DESIGN, DEVELOPEMENT AND PRODUCTION”, by David Lightfoot is an excellent book, describing how unbelievably involved auto manufacturing is. In it, using the E85 program, he put together a timeline.

      -Summer ’99, final design chosen
      -March 1, ’00, design freeze
      -September 1, ’02, SOP
      -October 26, ’02, market launch

      FYI, the E85 was the first BMW product whereby the duration of design freezeSOP was reduced to 30 months. The E65 took 36 months.

  13. rayo says:

    He is a great designer, just look at some of his sketches, bangle bmw’s are instantly recognizable and will forever be.

  14. bob says:

    Editorial = Opinion. The last paragraph is insightful. Unfortunately, it is not supported by the previous seven paragraphs, which appear to promulgate the popular and rampant misconceptions about Chris Bangle & Bangle’s tenure at BMW. This is why, I believe, we see peripheral comments about his hairdo. His watch. His beard. His eyeglasses. His ties. His tie clip. His pinky ring. As Autocar once put it, he really does look like he could step onto the set of a James Bond 007 film, in the role as The Villain. But I digress.

    His building of a very talented team of designers, design engineers, modelers, et al. is an important part of his legacy, but only one part. For more on that, I’d highly reco Car Styling’s Special Edition, “BMW GROUP DESIGN” (ISBN: 9784779602832). The Editors accomplished their stated task of, “…the world’s first publication to give an account of the corporate philosophy and culture that give birth to BMW designs.” Also, the piece that CB wrote himself for the HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW, circa 2001, “The Ultimate Creativity Machine: How BMW Turns Art into Profit”. He mentions that his first five years were of, ‘team building’. Dr. Klaus Draeger, in the presser announcing CB’s departure, affirmed his contributions, including many patents, “…he has mapped out a clean and aesthetic route into the future.” So, it might be too soon to write his legacy, if the sole focus is artistic.

    CB had said in interviews that the most challenging part of his job was having to switch gears; from the artistic side of getting the most out of his designers, to the commercial side of explaining to members of BMW AG’s Vorstand why a particular design detail would be more profitable over another. Therefore,

    I proffer that in order to get a richer and more accurate understanding of the full scope of his function at BMW, hence his legacy, we should examine BMW AG the company. And be prepared to answer a lot of key questions. Such as,
    When did Dr. Wolgang Reitzle recruit CB from Fiat? (Some fools think the E65-66 was his first act.)
    WHY(!) Did BMW hire CB? Harm Lagaay and Henrik Fisker were already there, and Reitzle hired Frank Stephenson the year before.

    From 1990-92 BMW Design was basically director-less, following the tragic situation with Claus Luthe. Yet, Luthe was nearing retirement age anyway. How had the corporate thinking changed to forsake a traditional succession plan?
    What ‘added value’ did CB present?
    What influence did CB really, truly have in the formal design decision process?
    These and a plethora of other Qs need to be addressed prior any meaningful legacy being assigned.

    To that end, one resource might be the book, “DRIVEN: Inside BMW, the Most Admired Car Company in the World” (ISBN: 0471269204). For the Bangle-basher, it’s a must-read. For the Bangle-fan, it’s an once-in-a-lifetime-cult-item. Funny how things work out sometimes.

    Elsewhere, CAR has always had interesting interviews with CB:
    July, 1994, “Star-Bangled Banner”
    Q: “So when does the world see the first Bangle-BMW?…”
    CB: “I hope that you will never be able to tell.”

    February, 2007: “Was Chris Bangle right all along?”

    His legacy could indeed be ‘A Perfect Storm’, as Brookside said. In my opinion, when the corporate side in included, his legacy will be that of ‘A Brilliant Manager’…A classic case study of the Right Person, Right Job, Right Company & Right Time. BMW = Brilliant Management Works.

    As a necessary addendum, his legacy will probably have to include the social aspects. Or, how were so many so wrong about him for so long? What impact, if any, did the events of September 11, 2001 have on the public’s perception of him? How exactly did the nasty, false(!) rumors about him ever get started? Examples: The E65 was going to get a total redesign after only one year; He was going to be fired in ’04 etc. How did his product success rate – or batting average – compare with some of his contemporaries like Patrick le Quement, Walter de Silva, et al.? BMW AG is a for profit enterprise.

    Editorial = Opinion. My opinion of his legacy is that, in the 25+ years of being a BMW owner/fan, CB is the 2nd best thing to happen to BMW…

    • Horatiu B. says:

      Great comment Bob and yes, Bangle was more than just a designer for BMW, it was the front man also, the man that had to take on both the glory and criticism.

    • Ale says:

      If CB is the 2nd best thing to happen to BMW, what is the 1st?

    • Doug says:

      No, Bob, I really think he has nice hair. It was not related in any way a sarcastic reaction to him or hugo’s article, but … maybe preemptive to the reactions that would follow.

      Btw, Bob, your posts are really quite interesting. I like how you flesh out the real actiivites in managing designers, design cycles, etc. I’m not sure if i want to buy a whole book, but maybe those CAR archives exist online?

      • bob says:

        Doug, CAR posted an interview with CB on their site last week. Note that he reflected he’s under contract with BMW until March 2010.


        • Brookside says:

          Most likely it’s a “non-compete” contract that he signed- I’m surprised that it only runs until March…basically he’s walking around with knowledge of what BMW will be doing for the next 4-5 years….
          Nice quote from the Car interview
          Bangle’s take on design in the new decade

          ‘I feel incredibly motivated to find out how design can overturn this horror of a world,’ Bangle tells CAR. ‘Sustainability isn’t just defined by the physical property of the resources involved. It is about creating a different type of relationship between design, design’s outcome, the product and the people who use and enjoy it.’

    • XC says:

      So, what was Bangle’s first act at BMW?

  15. atr_hugo says:

    Bob – brilliant!

  16. Brookside says:

    Kudos to Bob!

  17. XC says:

    Bob, you are very well informed, quite insightful. Are we seeing something from inside BMW? Tell us please. Promise not to tell…

  18. XC says:

    Substantial discussions at last…

  19. Doug says:

    Bangle’s employment probably goes to March because his general contract is tied to some phase of development. Probably that’s when the last car under his care is no longer subject to design changes.

  20. Ziomanhonderson says:

    He is a god

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