At the 2013 Detroit Auto Show, BMWBLOG sat down with Won Kyu Kang, exterior design at BMW and responsible for the design of the new BMW 4 Series Coupe.
Born in South Korea, Kang attended the prestigious Art Center College of Design School in California and joined BMW design team in 2005. This is his first concept that will hit the market, but we won’t be surprised to see more BMW models being penned by him in the future.
In the interview below, Kang explains in detail the design language of the new 4 Series Coupe.
BMWBLOG: This is a first ever 4 Series Coupe for BMW. For me personally the Concept 4 Series Coupe exudes pure design, sportiness, elegance and sophistication. Can you tell us about your vision and the key design features of the car?
Won Kyu Kang: First, the key design feature or the key design theme, from our point of view, was to propose irresistible beauty. And what is beauty? Beauty can be a very subjective thing, but we wanted to create a “beauty of BMW”. This way we started to have a look at our history, at what we have done on the coupe. Of course there are really obvious things happening in the car, after the study of our historical paths, which is: short front overhang, long hood, set-back cabin and nicely sculpted Hofmeister kink, long wheelbase and long rear overhang. Of course, on top of the kidney grilles or the iconic twin-brow headlights, all these things were taken into account. But how do we go further from all the distinct things? This was one of the main challenge in designing this car.
And the main feature is to show this irresistible BMW beauty. We think the BMW beauty comes from sportiness, elegance and looking luxurious or premium, and we try to visualize these iconic things, by showing this car.
BMWBLOG: Yet somehow you were still able to respect the BMW heritage, you were still able to push the design forward and you talked about the Hofmeister kink and the double kidney grilles. What’s new on this part that we’ve not seen on BMW? Where are we pushing the design forward? Could you show us those touches.
Won Kyu Kang: As you may remember, we used to have a black grille a long horizontal one with the floating kidney grille and there were some distance from the kidney grille to the headlights. And with the 3 Series we first introduced the connection from the headlight to the kidney grille. Here, we are showing it in a further level, by even connecting it with the light, and moving to the kidney grilles. The primary goal is to make the connection from the light to the kidney grille more obvious and at the same time it shows more horizontally, or the width of the car.
Of course the shape of the angel eyes is quite different – the rings are gone – the heavy point being much further out, this also helping the car look wider. This is not only happening there, but also if you look very carefully at the shape, this is repeating in many technical corners. There’s this technical function to lign up the street, the technical function to feed the air, and the technical function to have the floating wing, etc. From the outline you can already see the repetitive theme, but not in the same manner. They are all applied accordingly to what each has to do.
BMWBLOG: So it doesn’t add to drag, all these interesting design features?
Won Kyu Kang: These interesting design features were not there only for the decor, or just for visual fun, but they are functional parts. This is why the BMW design is so powerful, because they are authentic. They are not just gimmick, just being there for style, but are really functioning parts and we’ve tried to combine the functionality and the style, and as you can see, all these functional parts are applied with the same finish. You can automatically associate this kind of matte finish aluminum to the function.
BMWBLOG: I noticed for the first time that the 4 Series grille and the front – the kidney grille is kind of closed off, so the air curtain comes from below.
Won Kyu Kang: No, the idea actually is to show EfficientDynamics, which means the grille is in most cases closed when the curtain needs more air, it opens up. So right now it’s closed, but some area of the grille goes behind and when it opens up, then it gets more cool air from the outside, but when it’s not needed, it’s better to be closed, for the aerodynamics.
BMWBLOG: What about the airflow under the body? Is that also helping keep the drag down?
Won Kyu Kang: Of course. The air beneath the body of the car is as important as the air outside of the car. Actually with this car we cannot tell you more in detail about the aerodynamic figures, because this a design show car. It’s not here to communicate real technology, but to show the potential. It’s not the real concrete finish of the car, but definitely plays a major role in aerodynamics.
BMWBLOG: Let’s take a look at the back side of the car. Can you tell us about the air flow in the back of the car?
Won Kyu Kang: At the back we won’t talk only about the airflow, but probably start talking about the taillights. This is also something that we did on the showcar. As you know, we already have this iconic L-shaped taillight on each and every BMW since 1980’s. With this car we wanted to bring that into a further step, like we did to the frontlight. We created a lot more fluent, a lot more flowing expression, like a river – but not looking too technical or too rigid. And it also has the shape that is not just consistent, but also there is really subtle change in the thickness and way the surface turns and changes. At the end the viewer can really appreciate the pure shape of it and it’s just the same like on every coupe at the corners of the car.
If you look a bit lower, there is a main feature which is the rear diffuser and bumper. Again, this is also a technical part we wanted to implement with the same finishing – a matte aluminum finish, so they communicate the same thing, again the “technique meet the aesthetic”, here we’re combining the aero diffuser and the exhaust with the aluminum frame.
BMWBLOG: We like that expression “technique meets aesthetic”, it really defines the car step for BMW to make a whole new series and we think you worked really hard on differentiating it. What was the hardest part of designing a car that was going to mark a new Series for BMW?
Won Kyu Kang: Each and every car have different challenge. None of the cars is easy to design, and especially with this car, since there are some given technical aspects which we have to follow, because underneath there are many components coming from the 3 Series, as you may know. But we wanted to differentiate the look, the substance of the car as far as possible, from the 3 Series – this was our biggest challenge.
BMWBLOG: How about the wheels? They have definitely a different look, the 20″ wheels on this 4 Series look fantastic. And they really fill out the fender wheels. We’re sure hoping to see that in the production model, because I think the squat look of it, the way it fills out the fender wheels, the low aggressive stance and all is looking really good.
Won Kyu Kang: This wheel is also my design. I have to say the inside of the taillight and the headlight is done by another talented designer, whose name is Hussein Al-Attar.
But regarding the wheel, we also wanted to show the elegance, sportiness and innovation at the same time. We believe the elegance comes mostly from the long flowing lines – it’s not just rigid, not just simple, but it has a subtle change from every direction, so that the wheel looks stretched, but at the same time it has some emotion there.
BMWBLOG: The enthusiast part of me is looking at it and thinking this is going to be a tough wheel to clean. BMWs are notorious for kicking off brake dust. But it is a beautiful looking wheel.
Won Kyu Kang: Thanks. And the innovation product is definitely this floating element, to make sure the wheel has less material, so this is more lightweight, but in the same time we really wanted to show this is a lightweight wheel.
So it was quite challenging for us to make how we can make the floating parts float, how we can make the parts look much thinner than what really is. So it has enough material to hold the entire structure, but actually it doesn’t look that massive, or heavy, for the size of the wheel.
BMWBLOG: Is it a heavy wheel? Or it’s not in production yet?
Won Kyu Kang: It’s not in production, therefore there is no data about the weight, or performance.
BMWBLOG: Did those extra-vents help air flow over the wheel? Or they were more aesthetic?
Won Kyu Kang: These ones are here for the lightweight, not for the airflow.
BMWBLOG: What is it that got you in the car design? You seem to be very passionate about it and very good at it, given the look of this car.
Won Kyu Kang: I know it’s going to sound somewhat cheesy, but actually the very first car that really made me want to become a car designer was the E36 BMW 3 Series. And the reason why I really liked this BMW is that if you compare the one right before, E30 and the E36, then you have a huge difference, from the silhouette to the graphic on the front and the graphic on the rear. Everything was all new from the looking, but E36 still looks so authentic BMW.
And I thought: “How can somebody come up with such a brilliant idea, that it looks totally different from aerodynamic point of view, from the style point of view, really, from every aspect, especially the round headlight”.
Behind the glass it was the first ever attempt and this is changes, because no one else has ever done that before; at the same timeframe everybody else was doing only a square or a round. BMW was the first one to show the glass with the round headlights behind. And the kidney grille was well integrated into the body color.
And that car was me really the most innovative car of that time. I was like 15 years old, and after seeing that car, I decided myself that I have to work on that kind of thing – I didn’t know what car design is, I just thought I had to work on cars. And my dream place would be BMW, because of that E36.
And when I first started to work here I mentioned this so many times to Adrian, to Karim, that for me really it is a dream come true.
BMWBLOG: What’s your favorite design feature of the car?
Won Kyu Kang My favorite design feature of this car is the silhouette. I think the silhouette is so beautifully done, and really has the sportiness and the elegance at the same time, and it looks expensive and very BMW. It’s very successful from the outside towards the inside of the car.
BMWBLOG: Thank you very much for taking the time to explain everything to us.