Exclusive: Interview with Ulrich Strohle – BMW X3 Interior Designer

Featured Posts, Interesting | November 1st, 2010 by 13
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Second biggest premiere at the 2010 Paris Motor Show was the 2011 BMW X3. The second generation X3 joined the new 6 Series Coupe as …

Second biggest premiere at the 2010 Paris Motor Show was the 2011 BMW X3. The second generation X3 joined the new 6 Series Coupe as the main attractions at the BMW stand. In the last few years, the compact SUV premium segment has been filled with compelling offerings from automakers, such as Audi and Mercedes. The two automakers created a highly competitive segment where BMW once was a leader.

To restore its status and market share, BMW launches the second generation F25 X3 that bring an evolutionary exterior design and a totally revamped interior cabin. One of the main and biggest complaints from its customers revolved around the quality of the interior design, its materials and controls. The task to restore faith in BMW’s interior design fall on the shoulders of Ulrich Strohle. To learn more about the new X3 and its revamped interior cabin, BMWBLOG sat down with the young designer.

BMWBLOG: How would you describe in a few words the new BMW X3?

Ulrich Ströhle: It’s a car that fits perfectly for active people, family people.

BMWBLOG: The previous X3 received a lot of criticism for its interior design, quality of the materials. Some people felt that the parts were taken from other cars. What have you improved the most?

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Ulrich Ströhle: We really wanted to do a  nice job with this one, a nice car with emotional surfacing like organic shaping. Very-high quality materials were used and we tried to handle the materials as they wanted to be. For example, we used the wood as it is. The wood, leather and armrest stand for themselves, so we tried to have authentic materials.

BMWBLOG: Driver orientation is back. Is this something that BMW will try to push forward for interior designs?

Ulrich Ströhle: I hope that we have never lost driver orientation. Driver orientation is our history, it’s where we come from, and for BMW it is so typical to have driver orientation. In this car, it’s geometrically emphasized, and for me the car should be oriented to the driver, and this can be designed in many ways. With the new X3, this is the way to go.

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BMWBLOG: In designing the interior of the X3, what steps did you take to maximize interior capacity, while retaining comfort?

Ulrich Ströhle: Well, the car has more space, that’s physics. What we did in design is that we tried to use the angles and the lines running around, to get a visual feeling of having more space. For example, the line running through the dashboard, the horizontal line, also the wrap around theme, the command position interior panel, which has an angle the way you look at it, all these parts open the view of the interior to the outside and create a larger space. Again, a design theme to create as much space possible for your feet , for your arms, and then really tried to have the nice, organic design while creating a lot of space.

BMWBLOG: What functionality were meant to be a key point in this car?

Ulrich Ströhle: I think functionality itself.  This was one of the key points for me. As long as it’s a BMW, I think form is important. Emotional design is important. But as long as it’s an X car, I think functionality is just as equally important, and I think the combination is a perfect match. In general, it’s pleasant to have a design with the maximum functionality.


BMWBLOG: And while you were designing the car, was there any guidance that you received making sure that you satisfy both European and US customers?

Ulrich Ströhle: If our customer is looking for something he didn’t get yet, that’s our guidance. Because we want to make the perfect car for the customers. And for example cup-holders came from the US requests, but the Europeans say: “cup-holders?, Well, then we have to use them if they’re there”. So we tried to pull out the best in everything and tried to get it in the car.

BMWBLOG: Are there any specific materials that were used ? Anything that was particular to this model?

Ulrich Ströhle: What we used here is this new layered veneer , which is cut the other way so we can get the layered veneer feeling. Therefore, the wood itself needs special handling. I think it’s kind of a premiere in an X car. Another specific material used in the new X3 is the fabric on the seats.

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BMWBLOG: What’s your most favorite interior part in the X3?

Ulrich Ströhle: The view when looked at the design straight-ahead, somewhat angled from the top. The image I saw was like having ice breaking on the water. And it breaks up and something inside the water is shining through, breaking up and showing nice aluminum or nice wood. This view shows you the organic feeling, the horizontal with the vertical play, plus this breaking.

BMWBLOG: The display is 8.8 inches, so the screen is smaller than in an X5. This is a smaller car from the basics, and so a lot of details need to be scaled down, because the car is not a 5 Series or an X5. As a designer, how do you implement such things?

Ulrich Ströhle: We have to put this car in the line-up between X1 and X5. The components used fit really well in the car. For example, we have same sized instruments as in a 5 Series or  7 Series. Each of the X cars has its own particular materials used. X1 is a little bit fresher, even sportier than this one, while the X5 has an almost 7-Series luxurious look. And this one stands for flexibility, for activity. As I said, great car for active people, for family people. So the “ingredients”, as I call them, have to fit together in the car.

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BMWBLOG: What do you think sets apart the X3 from the competition, as far as interior design?

Ulrich Ströhle: I think that our biggest advantage with the X3 was that we were the first ones making a car of this size and created somehow a niche where others followed us. I think that’s a big advantage if you’re the first one. And we’ve had it for such a long period of time before everybody launched their models.

BMWBLOG: What exterior influences can be seen in your design? What inspires you?

Ulrich Ströhle: Everything that deals with design – art, music, but most of the times, nature inspires me. On the new X3, my inspiration comes from nature also, like a shell-breaking through, creating nice surfacing where you can see the depths.

BMWBLOG: Looking back in time, which BMW has your favorite interior design?

Ulrich Ströhle: I like the Z8. The Z8 interior in red.

BMWBLOG: Which car do you currently drive?

Ulrich Ströhle: 1 Series.

BMWBLOG: Can you summarize for us what is new and improved with the X3?

Ulrich Ströhle: What is new is the 8-speed automatic gearbox, the 8.8 inch display which increased a lot in size and has a high resolution. I think it’s one of the highest resolutions in the whole car line-up. Also, the EfficientDynamics system with automatic Start-Stop. In this one, it is a premiere to have altogether a Start-Stop and the automatically gearshift. Everything that you might want from other BMWs, we put it together in this one so it fits nicely in the line-up.

Thank you for your time!

13 responses to “Exclusive: Interview with Ulrich Strohle – BMW X3 Interior Designer”

  1. Billy says:

    I know this might sound a little weird, but can BMWBLOG ask if BMW gives free cars to their designers?

  2. Sajan says:

    Designers should be paid more, they create the cars of the road that make the world go round.
    Either that or he just really loves the 1 series

  3. FreudeKing says:

    This designer is not really saying anything valuable: what good choice of materials? They all look very cheap plastic to me – Look at the surroundings of the aircon vent – it is as cheap as you can get – pure hard cold black plastic!!! that could have been a nice trim. What emotional design? This looks like parts dump from other models – there was no freedom to design the instruments, these instruments (aircon and the iDrive shortcut keys) are panels of equipment lifted straight gtom the current 3 Series.

    As for that ice breaking in water thing – it just further highlights my point made in previous comments about the lack of deisng quality of this interior – that the wood is in the middle of nowhere, there is no flow, no effort into making good colour combination at all! Brown and black with black being seen as very cheap.

    The dash, especially the centre will once again be criticised as being cheap, using cheap quality hard plastics with poor deisign that lacks class! This dash is just a parts dump from other lower BMW models like the current 3 Series! I fail to see the emotion and all that jazz the designer is talking about. I would understand if he was talking about the 5GT, 5, 6, 7 and Z4 interiors but not this.

    • wazon8 says:

      I admire your ability of assessing materials quality just by taking a look (via eyes) on them. I wish I was able to do the same, although in recent world usually there is a need of touching materials before judging their quality, since sometimes low quality materials pretend higher quality materials really good when one look at them.

      • FreudeKing says:

        What can I say, I have extensive experience and an eye for detail. I do not even have to touch it to see it is cheap and I am sure most people can see that too. The plastic next to the aircon and iDrive controls – pure hard cheap plastic like the ones your wouild find in the pre-facelift 1 Series hatch models.

        The aircon vent surrounds plastic – hard plastic as well and it would leave scratches if you try and scratch it with a reletively sharp object, try your nails. As for the upper dash, it is the same material as the door panel of a pre-face 1 Series with a bit of sponge in-between.

        These are all low quality materials.

  4. Sajan says:

    you haven’t taken any of the other factors into account, like how much it costs to produce a car like this. You can’t make a car like this with a 7 series materials. One thing you have to take into account is where this car will be mainly sold, which is in the states, and the majority will look at the interior and say its fine.
    The air con unit maybe lifted from the 3 series, but your forgetting how much money it costs to research and design a new unit.
    It isn’t just BMW lifting interior components from their saloon counterparts.. for example the audi a4, a5 and q5 all have the same air con unit, and the q7 shares the same air con unit as the a6

    • FreudeKing says:

      @Sajan. I have to disagree. The reason why BMW has been and is superior to Audi si because they are able to make their cars different from each other. If they now start doing what VW and Audi are doing, then BMW will lose their competitive advantage.

      As for cost cutting, this is the premium segment. I am paying premium prices fro premium products. I would expect them to put more effort into making their cars more unique or at least make them appear differently even though it is the same thing inside. (e.g. aircon control panel).

      The fact that you say that the majority looking at the interior will say it is fine IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH! BMW is suppose to make quality interiors with very good designs that will amaze the customers. I want customers to sit in BMWs and say that it is an amazing interior, not fine! Fine means that there has been a lack of effort into designing and producing the interior. The interior whould be one of the selling points of the car (look at Audi, look at the new 5, 7, 5GT and Z4).The old X3 already have a bad reputation for a poor quality and ugly cabin, they have lots of make up for.

  5. Ruslan-Kz says:

    Finally: X3 (X1) – worse exterior and interior team! No other words.

    • FreudeKing says:

      Agreed. This team must be thinking: “How can we make this car look cheaper so that it does not steal sales from the X5 and X6.”

      Instead, they should be saying: how can we make this more unique and beautiful to steal sales from Audi, Merc and Lexus.

  6. Sajan says:

    I know exactly what your saying, and in my opinion, I don’t really think BMW interiors have ever been that special. The new z4 and the 6 series coupe concept are the only exceptions. I think the interiors are just about nice enough to call them ‘premium’
    However, someone may look at the b8 audi a4 interior and think it is way more interesting and modern then the e90 interior but in real life, it really isn’t that nice. Visually it is appealing, but the dashboard plastic is hard and the material used isn’t soft touch like on an e46. to be honest. Now that I’ve been thinking about it, no premium car’s interior is really that nice. I think the e90 interior is decent but not enough to justify the cars price, the a4 interior is visually appealing but the materials aren’t great, and the mercedes c class interior looks like it belongs in a ford mondeo. you only have to look at the glovebox design to know im right.
    The only interior that really floats my boat is the e46 interior for it’s uniqueness and the b6 a4’s interior for it’s top notch use of materials and how well it’s screwed together.
    I have both an e46 3 series with 110, 946 miles and a b6 a4 with 110,431 miles and both have great interiors that have lasted well. I’m not too sure about newer cars… the quality never seems great. An example is the mk4 golf/rabbit that had a blatantly better quality feel cabin then the mk5 golf

    • FreudeKing says:

      IMO, the E90 has the best interior in its class.I am impressed with the Z4, 5, 5GT and 7 Series interior. I also like the interior of the X5 and X6. But the X3 and X1 interiors are disappointing!!!

      I also agree with the fact that although the Audi interiors are visually appealing at first, they are actually of very poor quality. Just look at the lower door panels, they are the same quality hard plastics as used in teh VW Polo. The 3 Series actually have soft plastics throughout the entire door panel, which is a sign of quality.

      I also agree with the disguisting interior of the C Class (also the E Class), not only are the materials extremely cheap (if it wasn;t for teh badge, I would have thought I was sitting in a lower end VW), the design is also poor. This is not only my words, almost all test reports have criticised the interior of new Mercs… maybe they did research and found that their customers didn’t notice the difference and couldn’t see/feel properly to notice the poor quality and designs.

  7. Sajan says:

    Bang on there, when I went in a new c class the bottom half of the dash was really scratchy hard plastic. The instrument cluster was only quality bit of the interior. The doors did shut with a nice heavy cushioned thud

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