Exclusive Interview: Jacek Frohlich, BMW 5 Series Exterior Designer

5 Series, Featured Posts | March 27th, 2010 by 16
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At the recent Geneva Motor Show, BMWBLOG sat down with Jacek Frohlich, the exterior design of the new BMW 5 Series. 44 years old Jacek Frohlich, Polish born German, studied Architecture at Silesian University of Technology, Gliwice, Poland (Master 1989) and at Pforzheim University of Applied Sciences in Design, Technology and Business (1989-1993).

He is the latest designer responsible for the BMW 5 Series, the core product of the Munich-based automaker. In our interview, Frohlich talks about the new design language, the design challenges around the pedestrian regulations and the design process from its inception to delivery.

BB: What was the starting point for the new design? What were you trying to accomplish with the new 5 Series?
JF: I wanted to do a car that rides very elegantly and very sporty; and sportiness was the main idea. But… it had to be a very classic car, not extremely avant-garde. I did try to do something with the surfaces so the car shows its muscles. Really tight, sporty car.

BB: Why is the new design so different from the E60?
JF: Because what we tried with the E60 was to make the car look more avant-garde. Just avant-garde.

BB: Are there any design elements in the new 5 Series coming from other BMW models?
JF: We wanted to maintain the look of a BMW, so it had to look like a car from the big BMW family, but with its own character. We still played with some details, some features that are very BMW – for example the kidney grille, the L-shape of the rear lights and the Hofmeister Kink – very typical BMW features that we use in all our cars.

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BB: Looking at the hood, I see a lot of lines, similar to some of the newer models. Is it safe to assume that it is a characteristic that we’re going to see moving forward in other cars, as well.
JF: It’s true that the outline has something to do with the 7 Series. And the inline has something to do with the Z4, because it’s very sporty while the 7 Series is very representative, so I tried to mix it, and the surfaces, which are between the lines are very powerful, are very expressive.

BB: What are the design details that you spend the most time on to get them “right”?  From talking to Adrian von Hooydonk before, after the design is complete, designers go around the car several times trying to refine it and look at the fine details.
JF: I think it was the rear fender, I tried to do it as strong and as powerful as possible. It is not an easy thing to do so. I also played a lot with lights and shadows to give it a very muscular character.


BB: What are some of the design features that are not immediately obvious to the buyer. For example, the 7 Series has the aerodynamic element on the taillight and the 3D area around the Hofmeister Kink.
JF: In the new 5 Series, it is just the aerodynamics feature lines on the valance.

BB: What could you do differently with the front design due to the suspensions using a modified double wishbone?
JF: Nothing, I think. (laughing) I’m very happy with the front and the design is really like on the first sketches. Of course, there are some technical features you must think about, but the design is exactly what I wanted to do.


BB: Did you have any difficulties designing the front-end due to the strict Safety Regulations in Europe?
JF: No. I have received many questions on this topic. I tried to draw the design very well, so that nobody sees that we have a new technical things to take into consideration. It’s really like the sketch design and it’s also on the car.

“…it had to be a very classic car, not extremely avant-garde.”

BB: Would you find it rather difficult to design a car due to those same Safety Regulations? Let’s say, compared to 5 years ago?
JF: Oh yes, of course, because the bonnet has to be higher and it’s tricky to design it. It really sits higher, but we tried to keep it optically lower. It’s all about how you can achieve this and this part of my job.

BB: Were any of the metals and materials used in the design of the 5 Series particularly difficult to work with? I know you’ve been using for example aluminum and different materials to keep the weight down.
JF: Plastic is easy to do, because you can make of plastic everything you’re thinking of; aluminum is a little bit more difficult than plastic or metal, but we did it.

BB: What natural or non-automotive design cues contributed to the overall aesthetic of the new 5 Series? Are there external influences from outside the automotive world?
JF: A lot of influences, but you can’t really say this one thing influences others. There are a lot of pieces coming into my head, I mix it, and there you are. I wanted to do something with power, for example in the surface: show the power of surfaces, how the surfaces are built, with light and shadow. But not really just one thing to influence my creative works.


BB: What surface feature did manufacturing have the hardest time agreeing to do so? Any particular surface that was particularly difficult to agree on?
JF: The difficult thing to accomplish was around the Hofmeister Kink – it’s not really a surface, it’s a cutline which was difficult for the technical guys to implement, but with my project leader we found a way on how we could do it.

BB: Any particular design cue that you’re really proud of? You mentioned the front side.
JF:  I’m very proud of the body sides and the rear fender – it looks very powerful and I like it very much. When I look at the three quarter rear, I’m very proud. And I like my bonnet with the lines, how the shadow lines plays with the light on the bonnet and the surface between them. I am also genuine proud of the surfaces.

BB: We know a lot of designers don’t get to immediately drive the cars they draw. Have you had the chance to drive it?
JF: A 530 diesel

“…I thought for the first time that I was driving a 3 Series.”

BB: How does it compares to the previous E60 model? Is it more dynamic, sportier?
JF: I thought for the first time that I was driving a 3 Series since it is a very dynamic car.

BB: How far back did you start to design the car? I know the internal process involves several rounds of internal competition.
JF: First sketch I started was in November 2005, and that’s the starting time of this new model. After the initial sketches, then you move onto the next stage, the clay model. It takes one year, and after one year you still need half a year to do everything exactly how it has to be, and then you go with your car to the production and there are still some small little details that you have to do. So to summarize, I started the car in 2005.

BB: Jacek, thank you for your time and looking forward to seeing your name signed on future BMW vehicles.

16 responses to “Exclusive Interview: Jacek Frohlich, BMW 5 Series Exterior Designer”

  1. billmilo says:

    they did a heck of a job with the new 5er. good interview

  2. Robert says:

    Interesting… 2005… WOW… so right after the E60 was out….
    I wonder if they had him “pull back” from original designs as time went on, since this auto is so conservative compared to the E60.
    That said – It’s a stunning auto.

    • bob says:

      The F10 is a Bangle BMW!

      Yes, the 2005 reference is key. This is something that even BMW fans don’t fully realize. For *core* products like the 3er, 5er & 7er — where replacements are sure to follow — BMW doesn’t wait ’til the last moment to start work on them. Actually, shortly after a model reaches SOP, planning for the next model begins.

      Internally, BMW refers to each product program going on its own “Critical Path”; having a duration of 5 years. Design, engineering, production, testing, prototypes, etc., all have to be completed on time. ‘Design Freeze’ , where no further substantive changes can be made occurs approx. 2 1/2 yrs. prior to SOP. Hmm, 2005 -> 2010 = 5 years.

      The best part, well, is, Who was BMW’s Design Director, back in 2005, when the work on the F10 began? ;-)

      It’s shocking that some in the media, given that the current generation so far — F01-02, E89, F07 & F10-11 — are more conservative, or not as wild as the E65-66, E85 & E60-61, are attempting to promulgaste the absurd idea that things have been toned down at BMW. Crazy talk!

      One of the most egregious examples is C/D’s review of the F10 for their April 2010 issue. On the cover, their Ed. put: “THE NEW BMW 5-SERIES: DE-BANGLED AT LAST!”


      Fools! Bangle had said all along that BMW generations will follow the cycle, Revolutionary->Evolutionary->Revolutionary->Evolutionary… Did anyone listen?!

      This is what he said he’d do. This is what he’s done. The F10 is a ‘Bangle’d BMW’.

      Further, given the long leadtimes that Jacek Frolich alluded to, work is under way right now within BMW on the NEXT generation of BMWs, beginning with the next 7 Series…which is likely to be the first van Hooydonk BMW.

      • XC says:

        Agree, anyone with a little knowledge of the auto industry’s life cycles know that car development take that long. I thought the same when I read stories saying that Bangle had been sacked and his designs banned, or the like. Bangle influence will all over BMW until the next generation of BMWs see the light in 4-5 years from now.

      • Otto says:

        You’re right about technical aspects but wrong with design, especially exterior design. Changes could be done at the last minute, literally, just before the SOP.
        This car is definitively NOT a Bangle’s work.

          • Otto says:

            It is known that some main stream cars got their design changed at the last minute (eg Renault Twingo).
            About Bangle’s design, I fail to see where the evolution is between a E65 and a F01 or a E60 and a F10. It’s mostly a regression.
            Bangle bashed on the same sausage, 3 different sizes, and it’s precisely what we got here with the 3,5,7 Series.

        • Winston says:

          agreed, same applies to audi and their a4, a6, a8. it appears that the copy machine +10% button was abused at some german premium makers lately.

  3. Brookside says:

    Until now the 5-er hasn’t been my favorite model…it’s always been the businessman’s car to me- not quite sporty and not exactly youthful. But the new 5-er changes the game for me.. the design is superbly executed; the way the roofline melds into the body and that gorgeous crease that wraps around the trunk and sweeps across midway to the c-pillar is just perfect. I like this much better than the E60 which seemed to me like a collage of different elements- the F10 is so visually balanced and tailored. Really stunning in photographs. Can’t wait to see it and drive it.

  4. Joe says:

    Wow. Amazing how they start the concept design so far ahead. I mean if they started in late 2005 its almost 5 years to bring the car to market etc. Incredible.

    • bob says:

      Yes, it is amazing. On occasion, BMW designers will speak of their “event horizons” being ten years. They’re not as concerned with what good today as what will still look good ten years from now. I believe this comes about from production runs typically lasting seven years, and formal Board sign-off happening approx. three years prior to SOP. 3 + 7 = 10.

      Another amazing thing, IMO, is the time reference for BMW’s designers. While we’re seeing the F10 for the first time, for Frohlich, he’s being asked about the work he did five years ago. Right now, he’s working on stuff that we probably won’t see for another five-ten years. Our present is his past. His present is our future. Must be a little odd to have to remember what he’s allowed to talk about, while not revealing what he’s currently up to.

  5. bob says:

    Thankfully, he’s not wearing his scarf this time. :-O

  6. Horatiu B. says:

    We’ve said this for a long time. This is STILL a Bangle car, we were one of the first to say that Bangle was involved throughout the entire process. And again, BMW mentioned the revolutionary-evolutionary approach they take with each car, after every revolutionary design, an evolutionary one follows and this is the new F10 5 Series.

    • Otto says:

      Guys, guys, this is not about beliefs, this is about facts. Where are the evolutions here? Evolution means keeping at least some features from the past. Where are the surface flaming, the “Bangle butt”, the head lamp’s “eyebrow”? All gone. Could Bangle bash on the “one sausage, three different sizes” and release 2 copies of the E90 later on?
      Wonder why he resigned from BMW – or has been asked to resign ? The F01 and the F10 are the answer.

  7. Can says:

    C/D has just confirmed that many auto journalists don’t know what they are taking about. “De-bangled”?! Please. You should all write to C/D and tell them to correct that mistake. For as everyone said above, this is a very “Bangled” car.

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