Domagoj Dukec, Head of BMW Design, always offers interesting insight into BMW behind the scenes. With the new BMW i5 finally revealed, we sat down with him and gathered some knowledge about current BMW design trends and the automotive world in general. Of course, we also touched the future of BMW design and luxury cars in general, along with a couple of interesting questions on electric pickups and roadsters.
Why Are the Kidneys So Big?
One of the first questions hurled at Dukec was regarding – you guessed it – kidney grilles. Regarding the XM and 7 Series, Dukec had this to share: “These are particular models. They have expressive customers, they have status-oriented customers, [I kept telling people] wait until you see a 3 Series or 5 Series cars where people are looking for other things where they don’t want to show off.” He says that the 7 Series, XM, and the rest of the big-kidneys gang had to look this way in order to appeal to their target demographic. As a result, the 5 Series features a more restrained design – in line with the ideal shopper.
The Electric BMW Pickup? The Answer Isn’t Quite No
For a while, and particularly recently following the success of Rivian, customers have pondered what a BMW pickup might look like. “It looks awesome and really designed, but it’s actually…let’s say it looks toolish, but it’s not at all. But you can see that this aesthetic is somehow…quite fashionable.” Referencing vehicles like the Land Rover Defender, Dukec criticized vehicles designed for a purpose they’re seldom used for. Much more surprising was the news that the BMW pickup – a US-exclusive venture in most scenarios – has been talked about since he started with BMW. “[The company is] Always asking for ‘we need a pickup.’ We need something like this and we always calculate it and it was always just for the U.S. but you never know maybe things are changing as SAV segment is growing, we are looking also in this definitely.”
Electrified Z4? The Answer is No
“Electrified Z4? Probably not,” Dukec says. He cites problems with the platform, which would likely not be as accommodating to the extra weight and size of battery packs on the floor. Aware of Porsche’s commitment to bringing an electric roadster to the world soon, he points out why BMW can’t quite make that same jump. “You have to do it really purpose-built. And then you have to make your battery pack…T-shaped, something like this. And you can do all this but then you’re suddenly in invest, which is so high, that it’s not affordable.” Dukec also correctly points out that the Roadster market is already so small that it hardly makes any sense. Especially when you consider the typical Z4 buyer.
China Loves the Gas-Powered 7 Series
“We sell actually much more combustion engine 7 Series than electric 7 Series in China,” Dukec starts. “Electric cars have, in China, reputation more like being mid-class or a cheap entry segment, because it’s something for the masses.” Since gas-powered vehicles carry hefty fees in Shanghai, apparently, the assumption is that you bought the electric version because you couldn’t afford the gas one. “So if you drive electric, you can’t afford the $100,000 number plate,” Dukec continues, adding that changing government regulations are another challenge. “Right now, you can see that the [Chinese] government put a consumption limit for electric cars on 17.3 kilowatt hours, which is actually so low that X7 electrified X5 electrified wouldn’t work.”
The Future of Luxury
Shocking everyone, the wealthy are finally discovering this thing called “taste.” When asked how EV and combustion engine trends influence design, Dukec is dismissive. “The powertrain has not such a big impact on the design, but we are looking more into how cultural codes or social values are changing,” he begins. “Rich people, they say ‘I just want to buy products, which take certain responsibilities.’ Because that’s the new status you want to express.” What he’s trying to say is that companies with unsustainable practices or unethical working conditions aren’t long for this world. “You invest just in brands where you know that they care about more. This has a big impact also on the expression of luxury, so they are looking all more for discreet luxury.”
He also says that BMW is focusing on bringing more luxurious features to smaller vehicles. Wealthy customers no longer shop for the biggest and baddest car, especially in crowded city areas (like Shanghai). “Luxury, also in the future, is not expressed just by size,” Dukec says, especially since “if you express too loud, who you are actually, you lose actually reputation.”
The Not-Quite-Dead Sedan
It isn’t news that the sedan market is rapidly shrinking. But Dukec thinks there’s still a lot of gas in the tank. “People they don’t choose between high [ride height] and low. That’s completely different type of customers. It’s not like that.” Dukec thinks that while lifestyle-oriented buyers opt for the X5 or X7, the 5 Series and 7 Series buyer isn’t going anywhere. They’re still the choice for well-heeled customers that want a “driver’s car,” Dukec says.
Illuminating as always with Domagoj Dukec. What do you think about his look at design and the car industry in general?