By on September 21, 2007

bangle.jpgI've got a couple of bones to pick with BMW designer Chris Bangle. First, I reckon the "flame surfacing" design style that he's inflicted on the brand since the 2002 7-Series has trashed the sina qua non of German automotive elegance. Second, the Ohio-born Bimmer big-wig's insistence on pronouncing perfectly good English words with a German accent (e.g. "owtowmobile" and "schport") strikes me as the worst sort of pistonhead-goes-to- art-school pretentiousness. And now Bangle's really bungled it. On BMW-web-tv, Bangle waxes lyrical about his employer's Geneva auto stand. Ten seconds in, Bangles says "It's kind of an axis of white power here; there are really strong white cars." Now we're not suggesting that Bangle's racist, or that BMW's lack of minorities in their upper executive echelons reflects any kind of ethnic or cultural insensitivity. But that's certainly not the kind of comment you'd expect a car executive to make off the cuff– or fail to realize he had made and order it struck from the record. And the fact that Bangle's axis of white power comment made it onto BMW's website tells us they lack English-speakers, political sensitivity or both. Just sayin'. 

[TTAC scribe Martin Schwoerer has kindly uploaded the clip onto YouTube.]

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44 Comments on “Chris Bangle Presents BMW’s “Axis of White Power”...”

  • avatar

    What the who what the who whaaaaa? I’m guessing he means they look good in white, right? Like the color of the car? White Bimmers are pretty sharp. That’s what I’m going with…

  • avatar

    He should have said “It’s kind of an axis of CAUSCIAN power here, there are really strong CAUCASIAN cars”.

    Get Jesse Jackson here! Quick!

  • avatar

    Finally an excuse to usher him out?

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Isn’t “body-in-white” a legitimate term used by automakers when refering to a full-sized mock-up of a vehicle’s final design? That could be what he meant… combined with poor translatioon on the Web site.

  • avatar

    This post went up about 1pm EST. How long before BMW pulls the clip? Can someone save it for us please?

  • avatar

    “I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that a company headquartered in Munich would have a bunch of white guys working there!”

    Huh? Mountains are being made of a molehill here.


  • avatar

    Ah, political correctness. Demographically profiling cars is now newsworthy. Strangely enough, no one was offended when Chrysler produced their “black car”..the 300C

  • avatar

    if he were to say something like “raping baby animals is ok” then pause for effect and finish with “if you are a total freak” only the first part would make it a quoatable quote.

    Or, he could say something like “I invented the internet”

    Quotes taken out of contextet are still quotes. He still said it and it doesn’t matter what he meant, he said it.

    Time for Bangle’s butt to hit the curb.

  • avatar
    Matthew Danda

    There is a reason why BMW so clearly distinguishes “Bangle” designs from corporate “BMW” designs. It is so they can give him the boot at any time without damaging the overall brand. Excellent advance planning on the Krauts’ part.

  • avatar

    Preposterous, who ever heard of a German institution being racist?

  • avatar

    There’s no compelling reason for BMW to employ him. I used to enjoy looking at BMW sedans…now it’s just sad.

  • avatar

    Is it only me who tires of the politically correct? Does anyone really think that in the context of an auto show that “axis of white power” has anything to do with race?

    Must be a slow news day.

  • avatar

    It’s just really, reall poor wording. You don’t say axis of power when you work for old German companies. White power is also bad. When they are combined, it is just ridiculous.

  • avatar

    “body in white” refers to the assembly of all metal parts that form the body of the car prior to the body being painted, trimmed, or final assembly…

  • avatar

    It would be wrong to call me a Bangle fan, but the guy has clearly been influential and consumers seem to like his designs. His penchant for strong design statements has raised the stakes, and has clearly caused Mercedes and Audi to push the envelope more than they used to. Even Toyota is obviously influenced by his work, as the Camry illustrates.

    Unfortunate choice of words, though. We know what he meant, but that was obviously easy to misinterpret. As an American, he ought to know better.

  • avatar

    Eh…another example of Bushian levels of inability to articulate one’s thoughts.

    I’m “swarthy” and I’m not offended..more amazed that BMW didn’t quickly attempt to address the use of the term “Axis” as Suto mentioned.

    But hey..if pretending to be offended could lead to the banishing of flame surfacing back to the pits of hell from whence it came I’d consider joining the protests..

  • avatar

    I’m with you on the damage done by Bangle – but there is this germanic stubborness that keeps him on. Just as i-Drive is almost universally viewed as the worst interface in a car, BMW just keeps pushing it.

    It is always difficult for Germans to admit mistakes (although Americans come in pretty close), yet it took the stupid 5-series, Z4 and slighly-more-muted 3-series to finally arrive back at the decent 3-series coupe, from which most bangling has been removed. Can’t they ship this guy to China? And please, put Hooeydink in checked luggage.

  • avatar

    Uhhhhh, let’s get real here. Mercedes-Benz’s top-of-the-line specialty models are called the ‘AMG Black Series.” So is MB black but BMW white? No, they’re just colors (or the absence of colors), that’s all.

    I am not a fan of Mr. Bangle’s work, but some of the Asian makers have adopted his designs, so it would seem unfair to pan them as universally bad. I personally prefer MB’s corporate design language to BMW’s or Audi’s, but that doesn’t make me right or wrong, black or white, German or Asian. Opinions are not really subject to objective proof. The real issue, of course, is in the quality and performance of the sheet metal, not freudian slips on company web sites. And Mr. Bangle’s contribution to that part of the business is modest at best.

  • avatar

    Eh…Germans..I just remember that Trekstor released their new mp3 player only to change the name….what was the problem with the old name you ask?

    In retrospect, the name “Treksor iBeatblaxx” raised a few eyebrows….

  • avatar

    Did anybody else first read that headline as “axles of white power”?

  • avatar

    Robert I don’t think you’re the only one that is rubbed the wrong way by Mr. Bungle. He comes off as a complete and utter douche.

    As for the axis of white power crap, it can’t be tolerated. If he was taken out of context then he should issue a statement explaining his point. If he wasn’t however he should be disciplined and I think I have the perfect punishment…

    Force him to design the next BMW with straight lines only. No curves allowed.

  • avatar

    I guess if you live somewhere long enough you pick up the accent, my kids are doing it here at the moment.
    As for his designs, from his past to his current and future work, its always been trendsetting and influential, in design you sometimes need to have a pioneer, be brave and reach out and champion new causes. The X6 is pretty slick and resolved, the 6 series is a looker and so is the Z4, BMW designs can’t be all that bad as they seem to be selling by the gazillion still the world over. Yet with all the controversy and fluidity to the vehicles, there is something very germanic about them still.
    Even VW/Audi is moving from its teutonic roots, to more elegant sophisticated shapes and surfacing. Theres only so much Bauhaus you can take, look at the TT. The old one was ground breaking and iconic, always a pain to work from that when doing the next gen, the new one is a complete success, just damn gorgeous.

  • avatar

    “It’s kind of an axis of white power here; there are really strong white cars.”

    Well, you have to admit, the color white does ameliorate the ritual disfigurement of a Bangle Bimmer.

    There was a time when I thought BMW buyers might, as a community, represent a committed coterie of rational purchasers with some claim to taste, unlike the droves of brand slaves to M.Benz and joiners in the Toyota set. I expected that community to send a message of protest about flame surfacing in the form of depressed sales. But no. Sales went up, proving that except possibly for a compact hard core, people were buying the roundel without any awareness of what it’s glued to.

    Of course, seeing rising sales for a tasteless design theme, M.Benz couldn’t resist indulging in its own ritual mutilation. Then, SARS-like, the infection leapt two oceans and a continent to blister and scar Toyotas. Well, maybe not. For the first time ever, Toyotas appeared with some visual character. I guess even the ocular pain of caressing a Bangled fender via the photon stream bouncing off the paint is more engaging than the sensory deprivation of what preceded it.

    And now it’s going to take 17 more years to retire these eyesores and get them off the road. Strong white cars indeed.


  • avatar

    Relative to the video: I am not your sensitive left-leaning type. I am pretty swarthy and very thickly-skinned. I would be less troubled by the video if he were actually standing in front of a white car. He is not. There is no visual context for his words – so it is a little freaky. You can’t say that the quote is taken out of context unless the whole thing was the answer to a question posed by someone, but not captured in the video.

    Relative to Bangle: He also seems – in the video – to be working on a Victor Borge delivery style. Odd.

    Relative to Bangle’s design and the influence it has had, years of pundits comments have not captured the essence of that engaging disaster better than what Phil has written above.

  • avatar

    I would be less troubled by the video if he were actually standing in front of a white car. He is not.

    As one of the other posters noted above, “body in white” is industry jargon for a later stage in the design process of a car before it goes into production. (It’s the stage that occurs after the clay modeling.)

    What Bangle was trying to say was that BMW’s pre-production show cars on display (I’m assuming that he was at the Frankfurt Auto Show) were strong designs. (Since he probably designed them, he’s proud of his handiwork.) In this context, “white” has nothing to do with Caucasian people, the color of white or the Ku Klux Klan.

    I think that he was trying to be clever, but he ends up sounding like a geek, the kind of guy who you can’t invite to a dinner party because you know he’ll either bore or create ill will among the guests. In any case, the average person or enthusiast doesn’t know the terminology, so he’s a bit dim to use it in such a context that a lot of people are going to misunderstand it.

  • avatar

    For all the oponions mostly unflattering towards the Bangle school of design, its migrating, muting, and transmuting to other manufacturers of Teutonic origins.

    These other Teutonic manufacturers to outdo Bangle insist on putting an extra line here, a crease there, a bulge somewhere else. Is the overall styling execution aggressive, busy, or just plain ugly.

    The other trend is to extend the plastic bumper covers into the front fenders, and rear quarter panels. There is certainly an appreciable cost saving attached to this practice.

  • avatar

    This man has singlehandedly defiled the BMW brand. I have not liked one of his designs nearly as much as the Z3/M Coupe and the last gen M3. Why did BMW ever hire him? I could give a damn about what is coming out of his mouth, it’s what is coming out of his CAD program that’s made BMW (a brand I was not ever particularly fond of, primarily because of the BMW “type”) a brand I loathe.

  • avatar

    A haircut like that could have got you beaten to death in my old ‘hood.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    “AGR :
    September 22nd, 2007 at 3:11 pm

    For all the oponions mostly unflattering towards the Bangle school of design, its migrating, muting, and transmuting to other manufacturers of Teutonic origins.

    These other Teutonic manufacturers to outdo Bangle insist on putting an extra line here, a crease there, a bulge somewhere else. Is the overall styling execution aggressive, busy, or just plain ugly.

    The other trend is to extend the plastic bumper covers into the front fenders, and rear quarter panels. There is certainly an appreciable cost saving attached to this practice.”

    It’s interesting. Another poster above mentioned that consumers seem to like Bangle’s designs. I’m not sure that’s the case. I think most of BMW’s current customers would buy the company’s cars regardless of how they look. It’s the BMW roundel – and the perceived status it provides – that they’re buying. The fact that one can no longer manually check the oil level in BMW’s latest inline sixes tells you all you need to know about the company’s customers and their priorities. It’s a case of the emperor wearing no clothes. So the cars sell anyway. And other automakers figure something’s working so they ape the styling. After all, BMW’s are high-fashion, right? Too bad. It seems more and more auto designs these days fall into one of two camps: boring or tacky.

  • avatar

    BMW design sets them or was setting them apart with a distinctive look. That we agree or disagree with the Bangle school of design, the toned down version of the 3 and 5 work quite well in the marketplace.

    The bulk of BMW business in North America is the 3 series (entry level luxury), the M3, 335 coupes uphold the image the daily battle horses are a few rungs down the ladder.

    The entry level luxury market does not have a problem with the look/styling of a 3 series, the fact that its highly promoted with subsidised lease or finance rate, includes scheduled services, the dipstick is in the dash not the engine, the cost cutting is evident in several areas of the car. The 3 series prospect wants big tires, big wheels, the lowered look, xenon, bluetooth / mp3 capability, manu matic automatic transmissions, edgy styling, a published 0to60 of xxx, and the “pedigree” that its an handling / driving car developed on the Nurburgring(have a presumed spy photographer or videographer take shot of a “cladded up” car with a bit of a rumble at the Ring), throw in a good lease rate that makes a new 3 more tempting and more affordable then a used one, it works.

  • avatar

    BMW is on my short list in spite of the damage bangle has done. Where else can I buy a RWD coupe with a manual transmission?

    In the “NO” camp: Acura, Audi, Dodge, Ferrari, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercedes, Mercury, MINI, Mitsu, Pontiac, Saab, Saturn, Scion, Subary, Toyota, VW.

    “YES”: BMW, Cadillac, Corvette, Ferrari, Mazda RX-8, Infiniti G35, Nissan 350Z, Mustang, Porsche.

    Don’t want Cadillac depreciation, Corvettes are too low to be practical in my neck of the woods (even if that lip spoiler is flexible, it would annoy me), Ferrari–yeah right, Don’t want the RX-8 rotary–put in the 2.3T and we’ll talk, don’t want a POS Mustang.

    So that means all I can buy are BMWs, Porsches (if I can stomach the price tag), The G35 and the Z.

    That’s not a lot of choice, and it makes me sad.
    If Toyota does in fact bring out a 2.0L RWD coupe as rumored, there’s a good chance I’ll give up on the 335i and it’s massive torque for a low-speed high-fun toyota (we’ll see if it’s true)

    i’m sure i’m not the only one with these demands (RWD, Stick shift), so while there are a lot of brand snobs, posers, and tools, there are probably a lot of BMW buyers who, like me, end up there by default.

  • avatar

    I’m with nicknick. The overly syrupy steering of most cars pisses me right off, and as a result, the choices I prefer shrink to a handful of cars.

    Styling: The 5 series is a train wreck, the 3 is a little better, but needs to be in coupe or wagon form to look good, and the 7 is still ugly despite the improvements. Audi design is more coherent/less ugly, but not beautiful (save the TT and A5)

    BMW’s sell because most people buying them are only concerned about what’s on the hood.

  • avatar

    I agree with Steve Biro:
    “Too bad. It seems more and more auto designs these days fall into one of two camps: boring or tacky.”

    …but I think, particularly given what 213Cobra wrote, one might assert that the two camps are boring and “Bangled”


  • avatar

    That clip (or some similar comment) has been around for months. So I doubt it will be pulled.

  • avatar

    Hardly surprising, considering what the “B” stands for. Let’s not forget that this is a company that built its products using concentration camp slave labour.

  • avatar

    So if I try really hard I can misconstrue Bangle’s commment and be offended? Nothing to see here – move along. Really.
    As for the design criticism, love it or hate it sales tell the real story.
    It’s moronic to criticize someone’s accent. Or to think that someone would spend 20+ years living abroad speaking German a large part of the time and not pick up a few quirks.
    Profile of Bangle in the FT:

  • avatar

    Mr. Farago has stated several times that he lived in Britain for about 16 years. I can understand him clearly, no horrid english-accent there. I bet he still says pants too!

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    @Robert Farago:
    September 21st, 2007 at 1:16 pm
    “This post went up about 1pm EST. How long before BMW pulls the clip? Can someone save it for us please?”

    I saved it.

  • avatar

    Guys, I’ve followed your discussion about Chris Bangle in the last days. And I do understand the confusion about his ‘white axis’-statement.

    I’m writng this comment because I used to know Chris Bangle pretty well, I worked for/with him at BMW. He is one of the most fascinating, competent, visionary, empathic and emotional automotive managers I’ve ever met. He is very conscious about what he is doing and saying. And he is very aware about history in total and especially about germany’s sad part in history.

    So, my point is, that he would never say something on purpose, which could hurt anybody’s feelings or touch historically difficult issues.

    And please keep in mind, these guys (top managers) are under high pressure because they give 20-50 interviews a day during these Auto shows. Nobody can control every single word.

    And if you have been at this specific auto show in Geneva, you might know that the BMW stand was completely white. So Chris is only referring to the color of the stand.

    How can you hurt somebody’s reputation just by hammering on 5+ words, by twisting them and making a big thing out of it. And it definitely isn’t a big thing. You all know that!

    BMW is one the most ethical company’s in the whole industry, the are so aware of the company’s & Germany’s history and they treat all that with a lot of respect.

    Same thing with Chris Bangle: Do you know how much work, sweat, bloody discussions, killing customer feedback etc. it takes to redefine a brand’s design language???

    And you should definitely take out your personal opinion about BMW’s design language. Because this doesn’t matter at all when we discuss Bangle’s statement.

    Chris Bangle has been so influential and – just by looking at the pure sales numbers – consumers pretty much seem to like BMW’s recent designs.

    Unfortunate choice of words, no doubt. But we know what he meant, and that it was obviously easy to misinterpret and to discuss over and over again.

    Hope u get my point.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    I for one think I get your point pretty well, traceur66.

    Much of the criticism of Bangle’s designs is overblown. The 1-series and Z4 are impressive cars. What’s more, Bangle is enjoying the best praise of all, namely that of being copied by his peers.

    Look at the new Mazda6 in profile and you see the 5-series. None less than Giugiaro borrowed elements of the 5 in the Chevy/Daewoo Epica. The new Hyundai i30, viewed from a three-quarters rear perspective, has elements of the 1-series. The new US-market Accord reminds one of the 5-series, as well as the new VW Golf station wagon.

    However. Farago’s piece is not about Bangle saying something bad. It is about the surprising inability of BMW to recognize the inflammatory nature of Bangle’s words.

  • avatar

    If I was offended by the mentioned words, I´d first of all leave out terms like “Krauts”, “teutonian” etc. And who still cares about what was done in the name of BMW more than 60 years ago should also think about British, U.S., French and whatever companies with long tradition which maybe once were making benefit out of slaves and colonialism. Also nowadays companies make good profit out of modern slavery in east Asia. Anyway, to the discussion: It is so tiring to see that a certain bunch of peaople is only waiting for the chance to misinterpret something in order to make a large fuzz about PC. Especially, when taking this really harmless video. That`s rediculous, really. Sonds a bit like muslim fundamentalists burning flags because of some cartoons. And in comparison THEY were meant offensive! I especially like that BMW is leaving the vid in the internet and refuses any comment to the absurd accusations. Go on BMW!!!

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Cthulhu: “teutonian” is not an insulting term. BMW has apologized. And they have now taken the video down.

  • avatar

    Robert Farago (From TTAC) blogged on how insensitive this “axxess of white power” comment was from Bengle, but give me a break. Had an asian automaker said the same thing, no one would have thought twice about the comment. Why? There’s always been some sort of ethnocentrism when it comes to build quality and cars.

    Farago also mentions that since Bengle moved to Germany, there’s no excuse to pronounce English words with a German accent. Since when is this considered taboo?

    Farago, I think your hatred of the designs post 02 have clouded your judgement completely on BMW and Bengle.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry, but did anyone actually watch the video? The article mentions that ‘ten seconds in, Bangles (meaning: Bangle) says “It’s kind of an axis of white power here; there are really strong white cars.” What the article didn’t mention, however, was that those first ten seconds were devoted to an introduction in which the BMW Motorsport division’s very high-powered WTCC and F1 program cars – all of which are painted white, with red and blue stripes, BMW’s traditional racing scheme – were referenced before proceeding to a discussion on the similarly high-powered BMW ‘M’ brand vehicles also being displayed. Further, as we all recall from other recent uses of the phrase ‘axis’, it is a reference to a ‘group’ or ‘alliance’ and in this context clearly refers to the number of white BMW racing vehicles also in attendance at the ‘M’ display. That the author opens with an unrelated commentary on his personal feelings for Bangle and for BMW’s current styling direction, which is wrongly tied solely to him – as teams of designers from both inside and outside the company actually compete for their design to be chosen by BMW’s board for each new car – clearly indicates the true motives for use of this misrepresented comment. A true shame, though I very highly doubt that Bangle will be going anywhere – BMW has sold more of the ‘Bangleized’ cars in each year than the whole of each series’ previous production. …by the way, did you like the first X5?

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