By on September 2, 2013

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Designer Chris Bangle, who was strongly identified with BMW’s brand image and some controversial styling decisions before leaving the company four years ago to open up an independent design studio, says that today’s car designers are doing the same things over and over again, something he calls “mannerism”. In and interview with Automotive News Europe, Bangle said, “There is a real need for a change and that’s just not happening.”

Designers talk about innovation, but don’t really innovate, Bangle opined. “Even concept cars today simply anticipate the next production model coming down the line. Is this innovation? No. And at the end of the day this is what’s preventing car design from moving into a new era.”

When asked if he considered returning to run an automaker’s studio, Bangle confirmed that he’d been offered jobs but insists that he’s not interested at this point in his life, though he said that he loved his time with BMW. “Designing cars consumes you; it has a hold on your spirit which is incredibly powerful. It’s not something you can do part time, you have do it with all your heart and soul or you’re going to get it wrong. You have to know when to leave the party.”

Note: The video above is of a presentation Chris Bangle made last November to Stanford University’s Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS), wherein he discusses some of the same issues.

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69 Comments on “Chris Bangle On Current Car Design: “Real Need For A Change”...”


  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Thankyouverymuch Mr. Bangle. I think you’ve left your mark.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    This message brought to you by the guy who penned the ’99 Fiat Multipla

  • avatar
    Zekele Ibo

    The ’99 Fiat Multipla was fabulous… in the UK they sold them with a rear bumper sticker which read something like “Wait ’til you see the front!” :)

    I’m more a fan of Patrick Le Quément myself, I regret to this day passing up the chance to buy a mk1 Renault Twingo when I was living in Europe. I’m in Canada now, and one day I’d love to import one…

    Le Quément’s cars are more varied and less controversial, but still he designed several masterpieces (Ford Sierra, the aforementioned Twingo, even the Avantime and the Kangoo).

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      The Avantime is fantastic! I’d love to drive one around the US and see all the gawking.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree on Le Quément. The Twingo, Scenic, Mégane, Avantime and even the much derided Vel Satis are all great. In his case there was a direction and a sense of progress. With Bangle not so much.

      Before Bangle left BMW I always wondered what were they going to do? They chose boring and in retrospect the Bangle BMWs are better than the current crop. Though I think the last tweaking have made them slightly more interesting.

      So I guess the verdict on Bangle is that: Interesting. Very difficult to like, but interesting nonetheless.

  • avatar
    billfrombuckhead

    JapanInc need an intervention. These guys build some truly ugly vehicles especially Toyota, Subaru and Nissan. Honda and Mazda seem to be in remission except for their grilles.

    • 0 avatar
      ceipower

      Honda in remission(style) you say? Get to an eye doctor right away!
      Honda only offers two choices // bland to ugly Hondas and just plain awful looking Acuras. They sell (those models that do sell) on reputation only. NO ONE buys a Honda based on their exterior look. Most Hondas lack any form of exterior design , unless you’d call a box a great design, or a beak for a grill.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I agree no one buys a Honda (or by that extension a Toyota or Nissan) based on their looks, but it doesn’t give license to their designers to make them obnoxiously ugly.

        Honda in Europe actually put together a great looking Civic sized car when I was over there a few years ago, and yet they choose bland and/or ugly for models in N.A., this has to be a conscious decision.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. Japanese cars have always been for the most part boring to look at (with the exception of some Mazdas), but they were at least correct overall. I always think they got details wrong. Like the Lexus of the Legend query yesterday, the front was correct but derivative, as was the profile, but the back was wrong. Nowadays they dropped even the correct proportions and are going all weird for no good reason. The only one that seems to have some idea is Nissan though they need to refine their design overall.

  • avatar
    Ion

    I don’t like his designs but he’s right. Too many “all-new” cars look like refreshes of the previous generation.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      With the dictates of aerodynamics, there’s not much room for innovative design. Even Chrysler’s 1957 finned monsters were claimed to be aerodynamic, but they had no tests to prove it. A good challenge for designers would be to design a concept that holds five people sitting upright, without a wind tunnel.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Ford had (and has) been blatantly using the same bodies on multiple designs for at least the last twenty or thirty years, on the Mustang, Expedition, Explorer, Navigator, F-150, F-250/350, Edge, MKX, Ranger, E-Series/Econoline, Fusion, MKZ, Milan, Taurus, Sable, MKS, Town Car, Grand Marquis, Crown Victoria, etc. I’m sure I missed some models, too.

      I guess the rest of the industry has caught up with Ford, if not by recycling bodies, then by creating designs that are more evolutionary than revolutionary, or that use a significant number of parts and panels from previous generations. The 3-Series, Camry, Corolla, Accord, Civic, LR4 and LS are just a few examples of this.

      • 0 avatar
        Onus

        I was thought that was a strength for the ford trucks.

        The chassis and the cab usually go unchanged for awhile. They tend to do new grills, interior, fender flare style, powertrain.

        Like the 1980-1996 f series same cab, frame, suspension in 1996 as it was in 1980. Well maybe some better rust proofing.

        The 1999 – current super duty has shared the same frame, cab. The suspension did get changed for the 4×4 trucks in 2005 but thats about it.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    Bangle wants to consider himself an artist , but his vision when applied to BMW’s were a sales disaster. It’s a black eye on BMW management that he was given the job. He’s has the ego , just not the vision of an artist. Being “different” in and of itself is not vision. What Tiny Tim was to Music , Bangle is to car design.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      That’s not true at all. BMW set sales records when Bangle’s designs debuted. BUT, as I like to say to my BMW Club pals, “imagine how many they would have sold if they were actually attractive cars”. I believe it was a case of a rising tide lifting all boats – Bangle’s BMWs came out at a time of HUGE prosperity in the US and Europe, so expensive cars sold like gangbusters. His designs DID have the advantage of being instantly recognizable as BMWs though. No one was going to mistake that e60 5-series for anything else!

  • avatar

    I’ve always liked the BMW 745 and the “Bangle Butt”.

    What sucked about that car was the radical changes made to starting the car and using the features (i-drive).

    Everything about that car from the start/stop button to the seat adjustments were poorly executed, especially considering it was a bunch of rich old tech-dummies who’d be buying them.

    That said: starting from the introduction of the BMW 745 and on up to the end of the subprime loan bubble, I don’t think we’ll ever see car design so radical again. Those years brought the W222, the Chrysler 300, the DBS, the Veyron, the Accord Coupe and so many others.

    Vehicles that never should have existed: mostly SUV’s like Excursion, Hummer and RAM SRT-10, were willed into existence and able to thrive until fuel costs and the lack of NINJA loans swiftly pushed them into obscurity.

    The V8 started to be phased out for the V6 – which would now be the top trim engine – and the V6 became a 4 cylinder.

    Now- it feels like everything other than electric vehicles are just clones of the stuff we had during those years.

  • avatar
    brenschluss

    He’s good because his specialty is perspective as much as design. Whether his designs appeal to you or not (latter here,) he deserves credit as one of the best out there for what he is able to realize.

    I fully agree with him here, and hope he’s able to influence some change from where he now stands.

    • 0 avatar
      ceipower

      Yikes, He’s good because he says others are not doing a good job? His results show , yeah , he’s different, but his vision of different was a styling train wreck. In the great big book of Auto giants , this guys a noisy gnat.

      • 0 avatar
        brenschluss

        He says quite a bit more than that “others are not doing a good job.”

        If you watch that video, and that’s your only takeaway, I don’t think I’ve got anything for you.

      • 0 avatar

        I think his styling of BMWs was terrific, and I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking at modern cars (most of which are quite ugly, some of which aren’t bad, or are even decent), trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. The 3 series and the Zs of the Bangle era imo have much better styling than anything else from that era. And while others ruined cars with too many lines doing too many different things, Bangle could pull it off beautifully. The Z-4 is a masterpiece. The Bangle 3 series is great. There just isn’t much else out there.

        • 0 avatar
          GiddyHitch

          Against all odds, the Z coupe was sublime. I would argue that his designs didn’t fully coalesce until the refresh (LCI) and that that was, ahem, by design. The LCI 7er and 5er were perfect examples of this.

          • 0 avatar
            niky

            The original Z4 stands as one of the most intriguing Coupe designs ever. I’m actually miffed that they toned it down for the refresh.

            The “Bangle Butt” was much different from Volvo’s split-level trunk treatment. Volvo integrated the shape with the rest of the car. The Bangle Butt was a separate design element floating above the rear end. It looked strange, but it broke up the car’s lines and allowed for more trunk space with less visual bulk.

            This is not to say that I liked the butt. But I understand how the approach was radical at the time. About the only designs of that era that I thought was a complete miss were the 1-series hatchback and the X3.

            Bangle’s designs were love-it-or-hate it. But what stood out was the willingness of BMW at the time to challenge convention and to actually change it.

            Few automakers nowadays are challenging convention. And this is what stunts the development of new models and market segments. The fawning over “retro” and trying to make “corporate look” wrappers fit many different packages robs us of unique-looking and feeling vehicles.

        • 0 avatar
          Athos Nobile

          “I think his styling of BMWs was terrific”

          Agreed. Considering his influence started circa E36. However, I’m still at odds with that 7-series boot.

          And he influenced the whole industry, from his competitors in Stuttgart and (to a lesser extent) Ingolstadt, to everyone else.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I dunno. Before him they had that lovely early 90s M5, the 850i, and the ~98-01 740. All better than anything he produced*.

            *I DO like what the 6-Series has evolved to since his initial design, and it only took a little tinkering and the right color to look great.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    This guy is the biggest charlatan in the industry. He should have gone into law, politics, or maybe rap as a hype man with his self-promotion abilities. In terms of self-promotion compared to actual ability Bangle is like a white Flavor Flav. And I am only willing to make that comparison if Flavor Flav’s Public Enemy days are not counted.

    The Bangle Butt, depending who you ask, was inspired by Volvo or Hyundai. Yet Bangle demands originality.

    Now that Bangle is no longer at BMW, BMW has actually come up with an innovate design, the i3, which, while controversial, is possibly the most innovative design on the market.

    Audi is doing FAR better design, despite the design constraint an engine completely in front of the front axle, than Bangle ever did with the aesthetically optimal short front overhang platforms that BMW offered him.

    Back to overall innovation – Tesla is planning to make a grocery getting CUV with friggin’ gullwing doors.

    Bangle’s complaints remind me of the complaints that un-innovative musicians often make in un-innovative songs about how un-innovative current music is.

    Don’t worry if you’re not available Bangle. Henrik Fisker, who just made (with less business skill than design skill) the best looking sedan of at least the last decade (I’ll count the A7 separately as a fastback) is, from what I’ve heard, available.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    Bangle makes one great point, in the Q&A at the end, that all the problems have been solved and now design is just about being clever. I don’t agree that all the problems have been solved. But I do think too many people are trying to be clever instead of actually addressing problems.

    I partially blame Bangle for that. “Flame surfacing” created a trend of design being about adding “clever” crap to the surface, like Pontiac in the ’90s, except with less self-awareness, instead of design being about truly innovative thought regarding the surface.

    • 0 avatar

      I so disagree with you on Bangle vs. Pontiac. Bangle is the master at playing with the surface. Pontiac–ugh!

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      > Bangle makes one great point, in the Q&A at the end, that all the problems have been solved and now design is just about being clever.

      That’s like saying that all of the problems of clothing have been solved, and now it’s all about the fashion. Yet, for all of the ‘design’ out there, a man still looks good in a darker coloured two-button suit, ‘boring’ straight-tip Oxfords, and an ‘old man’s watch’ like the vanilla Calatrava. The problem with designers is that so few of them truly make our lives better; their incentives are geared towards making us unhappy with what we have and selling us on ‘the next thing’.

      (Aside: Have you seen the size of the “Polo” logo on some of Lauren’s causal stuff nowadays? The horse and rider take up have the shirt!)

      Flame surfacing solved nothing other than the fact that BMW wanted to make their cars different. Acura’s ill-fated journey into beaking their cars was because they wanted a ‘distinctive’ grill like the German big boys. Fluidic sculpture often appears that Hyundai designs by committee and has a problem saying “no” to everybody who worked on the car.

      Great design either is beautiful or solves a problem. The problem with bad design is that it does neither, and instead telegraphs the conceits of the designers themselves.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        “The problem with bad design is that it does neither, and instead telegraphs the conceits of the designers themselves.”

        A la the badge size on Infiniti nowadays. And the ridiculous nature of the JX/QX.

  • avatar
    PriusV16

    Here´s another Bangle interview with German news magazine Der Spiegel.

    It´s only available in German, here are Google-translated and Bing-translated versions of it which read like a Yoda monologue but should still be somewhat comprehensible to English speakers:

    http://translate.google.de/translate?sl=de&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=de&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.spiegel.de%2Fauto%2Ffahrkultur%2Fchris-bangle-im-interview-autodesign-muss-emotional-sein-a-892108.html

    http://www.microsofttranslator.com/bv.aspx?from=&to=en&a=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.spiegel.de%2Fauto%2Ffahrkultur%2Fchris-bangle-im-interview-autodesign-muss-emotional-sein-a-892108.html

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    “Sameness” in car design is a bit of a cheap shot. The argument is as old as cars!

  • avatar
    fredtal

    Anybody can say “this design sucks” Read that crap everyday on the internet. So what. About the only recent inovative design I’ve seen has been the Delta Wing race car. Everything else is just gingerbread.

  • avatar
    Austin Greene

    I don’t want to sound negative, because this chap has clearly achieved a far more profound legacy than I will ever leave, but seriously who wants to know what Bangle is thinking on design?

    And who is hiring his independent design consultancy and for what projects?

    I believe ALESSI has the teapot design business pretty well sewed up.

  • avatar
    hubcap

    For what it’s worth I think the E86 M Coupe is one of the best looking and most recognizable cars on the road.

  • avatar

    I’d pay more attention to Chris Bangle if the Bangle-era BMWs weren’t scary ugly. I have to avert my eyes whenever a Z3 enters my field of vision.

  • avatar
    jbltg

    I see what Bangle was trying to do, but any notion of buying a new BMW for me pretty much died when he took over styling. The look of the entire line does seem to be recovering lately. Not a fan of the general expansion in size and weight across all models.

    Industry-wide, all manufacturers seem hell-bent on copying each other to the point of almost total assimilation into one look, sort of like dogs would look if allowed to breed indiscriminately.

    Designers and stylists of almost anything do spare us from the boredom of everything always looking the same. There are high and low points in this process, inevitably.

  • avatar
    krayzie

    I clicked on Chris Bangle and Associates and their logo looks like a bum hole.

  • avatar
    Signal11

    As one of those guys who was ambivalent about Bangle era BMWs and finding them not standing the test of time, here’s what I say. Mr. Bangle, you’re no Dieter Rams. Or even a Jonathan Ives for that matter.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Whatever you think of Bangle, he’s right – all the designs look alike. I’ll bet if somebody came up with a three-box concept with a tall greenhouse, it would be considered revolutionary. All that’s needed is the end of CAFE.

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    BMW thrived in spite of this clown; not because of him.

  • avatar
    JD321

    Maybe car companies can hold an Internet design competition and the winning design gets paid big bucks. Common people with Photoshop can do a better design than any self-important and infantile art school twit. Why do companies waste millions of dollars on these tasteless clowns? Anyone posting on TTAC would produce a more tasteful design than ANY art school twit.

    Jack – Why not hold a TTAC design competition…Redesign the BMW 3-series…open to all TTAC contributors. Winner gets, umm, a ride around a track in a Panther.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      The problem with that is the “common people” are not considering things such as aerodynamics, safety, space (not just interior space, but proper space for things like the powertrain/suspension/fuel system etc) and manufacturing costs in their designs. Professional car designers can easily create wild and exciting cars, but there are budget and engineering constraints that they have to worry about and we don’t. That is why the more out there concept cars get watered down when they hit the showroom floor.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I’m old enough to remember GM people coming into my junior high and having guys (no girls) try their hand at drawing new car designs. None of those considerations you mentioned were involved, they were looking for guys with a sense of style and proportion. GM did that for years, looking for just a few designer candidates they could develop. The nuts and bolts came later.

        • 0 avatar
          niky

          The thing is… designers and design department heads like Bangle work in this so called “later.”

          Any designer worth their salt can draw a beautiful or exotic car. The trick is doing one that won’t look horribly proportioned when stretched around the final production chassis (Alfa Romeo Brera… that front overhang is horrendous) and won’t have much of Sajeev’s infamous “DLO Fail” when realistic door shutlines don’t match that neat greenhouse that you’ve been working on for months.

          Then after all that, marketing will come in and demand you add the family grille, or the boss will ask for more chrome… or any number of things can happen that dilute your original vision.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “Maybe car companies can hold an Internet design competition and the winning design gets paid big bucks.”

      This happens from time to time. Keep and eye out and throw your hat into the ring.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    I love the Stanford podcasts. Stanford is so cool. I wish I went to Stanford. I can’t stop saying Stanford. Greg Walton is awesome.

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    I have no love for Bangle, but I do wish him well designing golf shirts or table lamps or possibly even an a line of trendy umbrellas, but he has no place touching a car. I’m sure he’s been approached by various prestigious car companies who want to hire him to perhaps trim the hedges on the corporate campus or maybe empty recycle bins. I can’t imagine any reasonable person would ask him to design a car.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    Sorta OT, but related to styling: For years many maintained the fiction that the original Taurus was an original, it was not.

    On Autoline, Bob Lutz – he was there – admits that Ford cribbed the Taurus from Audi:
    http://www.autoline.tv/show/1727

    btw, the design segments on Autoline are fun and informative.
    http://www.autoline.tv/show/1726

    • 0 avatar
      rockit

      That’s not new information and not relevant to the article.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Sure it’s relevant. Designers cribbing from each other helps produce the sameness of design that Bangle is talking about. Of course, cribbing is an all-American auto industry habit: Look at the front end of a 1952 Lincoln Capri, and compare to the front end of a 1957 Pontiac chief.

  • avatar
    3Deuce27

    Excellent lecture.

    Most naysayers are not designers or are jealous.

    Chris didn’t design the ‘Bangle Butt’, and nobody has had the effect on modern product design, like Chris. Everything from cars to toasters reflect his contributions to modern design.


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