Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen – BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMW X3, Featured Posts | November 7th, 2010 by 12

Our series of exclusive interviews continues today with Erik Goplen, the exterior designer of the new BMW X3. The American designer, working as a creative …

Our series of exclusive interviews continues today with Erik Goplen, the exterior designer of the new BMW X3. The American designer, working as a creative director for DesignworksUSA, also designed the BMW E46 3 Series Coupe, one of the most popular and highly appreciated 3 Series to date.

Goplen is an avid classic car collector – he owns 1969 De Tomaso Mangusta; and one his mottos was revealed in a previous interview: “We have a design heritage to maintain”.

To learn more about the design of the new X3 and also his transition as a designer from a Coupe to an X-model, BMWBLOG sat down with Erik at the recent Paris Motor Show.

BMWBLOG: The previous X3 was somewhat feminine in appearance and appeal. What has been done to revise the new X3 as it looks much more muscular now?

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

Erik Goplen: Actually a lot has been done. One of the key things is the proportion of the car. The car is much more stable on the ground with a wider track and a more muscular form has been put into the car. My explanations of the body form, which I think are strengthening the “X” DNA, are these three details over the front wheel, rear wheel and then also the “zicke” line. It’s almost like this tension of line helps to give the car masculinity.

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMWBLOG: Would you say the new X3 design is conservative?

Erik Goplen: I don’t know how the outside will feel about it. In my opinion it’s quite a large step forward. Again, the strengthening of the development of the car, a lot more light and shadow and a lot more muscular surfacing. I did appreciate what we had done previously as far as design.

For example, the taillights were very iconic and then back to the E46, I wanted to bring back the double round headlights. I felt that we had established a strong position with that car. It took a while since the car was considered the “little brother” of the previous X3 and eventually it got a lot of momentum. In Europe they really enjoyed the car and it was really successful. This car represents a car that has grown up and I wanted to portray the “little brother” as a tough boxer that stands its ground. When it comes to the sculpture of the car, we are being a bit more provocative. The lights align strategically with the entire line-up. I’m very proud of the car and especially the sculpture through the car. When one thinks of modern or progress, I believe the car has all those elements to make it successful.

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMWBLOG: What hommage does it pay to the previous generation?

Erik Goplen: From the very first sketches it was important to me to emphasize these dynamic lines. I love that ticked up yellow and in this case being something I wanted to preserve. The strength of where it sits in space, there is a lot more wedge to it and in appearance it looks like it has this motion of going forward.

There is also the T-lamp in the back. Those are probably the two elements that are on the more obvious side. Other than that, the car was really a blank slate of paper, but we believe that the cars have a little bit of evolution in them. I just did what felt natural with my proposal. There wasn’t a definite request or requirement from the board, so it was nice to have that freedom.

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMWBLOG: Is there any feedback from customers to led to specific design features in the new X3?

Erik Goplen: This car started out in our California studio and I think the only influence from us is the location. I very much look to other things, other than other cars and our dialog with customers is more general and not specific to an exact model. Since my wife drives the current X3 and from a factual point, to have a car that has a little more space and drives a little more confident made this for me more reality.

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMWBLOG: Did you look at the midsized SUV market for inspiration and direction when designing the current X3? Prior to the inception of the original X3 there was no Audi Q5 or Mercedes-Benz GLK. Does the aforementioned competition change the design approach to the X3?

Erik Goplen: I feel that the new X3 shows all these dynamic lines, which is so BMW, and really so strong and let’s say “spicy” for the “X” family. In regards to the two cars and the two companies you have mentioned, I think that they are doing their job, one better than the other. We are excited to get the new X3 out to the people. The feedback from our pre-driving shows that it’s a great car. It’s grown up, but it’s still an athlete who is very agile.

BMWBLOG: What was the biggest challenge designing this car?

Erik Goplen: We have an amazing efficiency on this car. I think it is best among the vehicles you have mentioned before. We have a little more aerodynamic involvement we have worked with and also, the rear spoiler and the front corners are maximizing this, creating a balance of function to aesthetics. In the middle of the development, the width to the track was increased, which made the job easier.

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMWBLOG: What parts of this design you like the most?

Erik Goplen: The pronounced wheel arches are my number one favorite feature. I also like the introduction of the “zicke” line that drops down. It brings a brand new dynamic to the “X” car and I think it will be a feature that we will see in the future on some of our other cars. I am very proud of the line and the tension that it’s created with that. I worked so hard on building the spoiler back into the car and I hope that some enthusiast will appreciate this. I think there is so much more sculpture and muscle built into the car. I am very proud of the car as a whole, but I think the rear of the car has the most forward thinking features built in.

BMWBLOG: How far back did the design start?

Erik Goplen: The sketches started in late 2006, early 2007. I moved back to Germany for 6 month in 2007 to develop the car. This is a Designworks product. We used the same modeler, Brady. He is a great guy. With this car we really had a chance to do exactly what we wanted and we are very enthusiastic about it.

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMWBLOG: What is the target demographic for the new X3 now that it has grown some and will likely assume a role previously occupied by the original X5? Did this have an affect on the exterior design or was the design conceived then adapted to the market?

Erik Goplen: We have learned a lot. In this case, the car has to mature and be more confident now. It also has to have the attraction and I think we have accomplished all of that. I think this car bridges several demographics right now, anywhere from being a family car to being a performance car. The driving is amazing. Whether you are out doing performance driving or leisure driving the car is pretty amazing. When the car is a truly active vehicle, it will cross into several different demographics. We will notice this with the customer’s approval and enthusiasm in regards to this car.

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMWBLOG: SUVs tend to be inefficient vehicles due to their size and weight. How has BMW improved the X3s aero efficiency? Its drive efficiency?

Erik Goplen: In its competitive field, this car is the best in its class. Throughout Europe the car comes with the efficient dynamic Start/Stop. In the States we can see all the aerodynamic enhancements that were made throughout the car. The guys in Munich are always working on improving the engine configuration.

Exclusive Interview: Erik Goplen   BMW X3 Exterior Designer

BMWBLOG: While we appreciate the X3’s role as a practical on-road vehicle, can you describe the X3’s off road capabilities? Just how far off road can it go, in a pinch?

Erik Goplen: Our intention is always that the car functions great in an off-road environment. I went to the Performance Center in Spartanburg, which has off-road terrain and you get a lot more appreciation for this car after driving it. The team in Munich that works on the suspensions does a fantastic job as well. Sometimes, I think we take it for granted, but when you are out there on the handling course or in the slide on the track, the car performs awesome.

BMWBLOG: What is your favorite BMW car of all time?

Erik Goplen: I have a passion for mid-engine cars. I really like the 3.0cso. I think there is purity in the shark nose, and in general purity to that car that we can always reference. There is also something with the M1 that I always liked as well. The study that we did was very exciting and we will be looking into similar models in the future. There are a lot of good cars. I would like to say it was the E46 coupe and the M3 version of that. We are proud of all the cars.

BMWBLOG: What’s next for Erik Goplen?

Erik Goplen: I think I’m ready for a small, sportier car. I have competed on several other “X” projects and have influenced the projects. In spite of family, kids and mountain bikes, I own a 135i manual 6-speed and it’s a fun car to drive. I’m ready to keep going in the coupe and sports car direction. We all want to design sports cars, but it’s fun to get an “X” car out once in a while.

  • Matt


    • Maria

      Agree. Kinda like the ideas of these series of interviews these guys are doing, bringing the designers to the front-row and giving them a chance to talk about their creations, ideas and future.

      Good job guys, I can only imagine the amount of work put into these interviews.

  • FreudeKing

    Good interview.

    Just a comment on the X3 design. I like the side and rear of the car, but the front is a diaster!!! it looks bloated and really ugly from certain angles. If you want a good looking X3, you would have to order the sports package as the standard front bumper is terrible, flat and bloated!

    As for your future designs: the current 1 Series Coupe is a beautiful sporty car, I believe that you need to consider the following when designing the next 1 Series Coupe: Modern, Sleek, Sporty and Stylish. This means no Bug-eyes (like the current one), also not the huge eyes of the new X3, the eye lids need to be thin, just a trim so that you do not amek a sleepy face like the new 5 Series and please try to product a 3D nose, the flat nose of the 5 Series makes it look swollen. Learn from the mistakes of other recent BMWs and make an already good 1 Series Coupe outstanding. I want it to have a wow factor, poeople must look at it and say it is amazing.

  • Ruslan-Kz

    Agree with FK. I like the side and rear of the X3 too, but general effect is poor. Only one reason – the ugly front. Don’t give him to make sport car. In any case it will be not good-looking car.

  • Jim

    Big improvement, but I agree that the front end is a bit off, the grill too upright, and the sharp line of the headlight housing seems incongruent — I really dislike it. Two other things I dislike about the exterior are: (1) the holdover of the side back glass shape, where is goes up towards the tail — never liked it on the last X3 and still dislike it here. The X5 does not have that — and the X5 is a far better looking vehicle. :( Erik Goplen: those overly exagerated details over the front wheel, with what you called the “zicke” line, simply looks weird and off. I like most of the strong line on the side but not that dip down towards the front wheel arches and the the business of the other line from the front. BMW: link these somehow on the next update — and soon.

    One final comment about the engine choices in the US. How come NO ONE (that I’m aware) has ever mentioned combining both clean(er) diesel hybrid electric rather than just with gasoline? Wouldn’t that maximize fuel economy that much more? Is there some technical maladaptability with these? Someone please research and explain. I love the X5 with the turbo diesel — don’t sacrifice performance at all and get relatively good mpg — and would get even more in the smaller/lighter X3, and even MORE with electric hybrid. I would by a diesel electric hybrid from BMW in a heartbeat if offered — and this by someone who hated diesels up to recently and was bored with the performance of past hybrids. BMW — if anyone can do this, you can — and SHOULD. I think you’d be very pleasantly surprised by the marketability of this ….

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  • bob

    Back in 1994, CAR asked Bangle, when would the world see the first Bangle BMW, he replied: “I hope that you would never be able to tell.”

    Erik Goplen can tell them. ;-)

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  • Koplan

    I like the new X3. But I do not understand why the bumper and the wheel-arch trims are in ugly black plastic? It is like you take a shower and paste a little shit on your face. Of course they have to reserve something to be changed for the next so called face-lift. The sports package body should be the standard one. Please change it before people decides on other cars because of this ugliness.

    • Lame

      Get the sports package and you will get rid of the black parts. BMW loves to make their car look uglier with the base model so that customers can pay them a little fortune to make it look pretty. Look at the X1. I bet you they will bring out the new 1 Series and 3 Series standard with dead ugly black unstrayed door handles. NOT EVEN TOYOTA DOES THIS AND WE ARE TALKING ABOUT BMW THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE PREMIUM!.

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