Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW Design Director, has seen and done much during his tenure with BMW. From joining the company in 1992 until today, he’s had his hands in plenty of important models, including the 2001 7 Series and, of course, the BMW i3. We get his thoughts on the Neue Klasse, Shy Tech, the i3’s lasting legacy, and more. In this exclusive interview, we get a glimpse into the future of the brand and especially, into the future design language.

Getting to Neue Klasse

“We are very busy, probably more busy than ever,” van Hooydonk starts. “These big changes in design are not just taking the [MINI and BMW] brands into new territory. They’re taking them closer to the very core of those brands.” He thinks the design steps forward for the Neue Klasse and the new MINI are essential to the brands’ legacy.

Van Hooydonk says the drastic steps forward are thanks to the eagerness of the design staff. “Everybody wants to work on a concept. But, of course, the production cars are even more important,” he says. “We’ve been extremely busy,” he says, explaining that preparation for Neue Klasse started several years ago. It was smooth sailing once he and the team figured out where they wanted to go with the brand. You’re only seeing a Neue Klasse debut in sedan form because it’s where the brand’s heritage lies. A fact that van Hooydonk apparently hasn’t forgotten.

Continued Development of Shy Tech

Sensors are hard to make beautiful. “They grow exponentially,” he says, and there’s always more of them coming. “We, of course, want to incorporate the new technology – both in the exterior and in the interior. I think our customers want that. But first and foremost, they want BMW.” It’s a balancing act that ties into everything from concept vehicles to production stuff, and Shy Tech helps. “We want the modern technology to be there. To be available to the customer. But, we don’t want it to be overpowering,” van Hooydonk explains.

Heritage in the Electric Era

Heritage has to play a role in the design process, which van Hooydonk is unfamiliar with. Kidney grilles have become less important, but even electric cars need air. But van Hooydonk thinks they’ve already gotten over this particular roadblock. “That’s part of what we learned while doing the i products. An i3 could have come about without any kidney-shaped grill, but we decided to put one on. Because it gives you a recognizability and with that comes trust and a lot of connotations.” He doesn’t think any amount of advertising can replace a good presence like that. That’s why you’ll see clear references to the past in even ultramodern Neue Klasse cars.

A Touchscreen-less Neue Klasse?

“There were thoughts about that, but pretty early we were we were actually sure that touch input – next to voice – was probably going to be the primary operation method,” van Hooydonk responds. He thinks voice commands will take an even more drastic step forward soon, though. He’s also still a huge proponent of Gesture Control. The familiarity of a touchscreen is simply too ubiquitous to go the way of the dodo – at least for now. “So while we were dreaming of doing away with screens altogether, we were clear that probably we had to have one,” he notes.

The i3: Signaling the Future

“The first task I had when I came into this job was to design the i3,” van Hooydonk starts. But he was aware of how the future was unfolding. “We wanted to signal to the entire customer base, into the world. That it’s not just one car that we need to deal with; the whole company will probably change over time.” van Hooydonk thinks that one thing has remained very consistent with the brand since his beginnings.

“We’ve always been able to deliver cars that people like to drive and buy now. And at the same time, almost keep preparing for the future.” Even with the i3, van Hooydonk imagines M5 customers admiring the engineering behind the car – if not necessarily gung-ho to go out and buy one. He thinks that between the design and driving dynamics, the two separate schools of thought are rapidly converging. I’ll be reserving judgment until we drive the first authentic M EV.