By on September 14, 2017

Bangle butt, Image: Wikimedia

No car designer in recent history comes close to touching former BMW Group design chief Chris Bangle for controversy. For decades to come, auto scribes will pen articles looking back on his influence on BMW’s lineup, most of which will mention the “Bangle Butt” within the first 100 words.

Bangle’s 17-year tenure at the German automaker ended in 2009, after which he vacated the auto industry, started up a design firm bearing his name, and left his past products for the punditry to debate for all time. Well, Bangle is back, in a manner of speaking, and he’s working on a vehicle from an unlikely source.

He also spilled his guts at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The man known for avant-garde flourishes and risky design adventures claims “hyper-conservative, hyper-terrified” automakers are just re-toasting the same slice of bread.

“They’re being asked to do little more than just ‘give me a little twist on what we just did,'” Bangle told Automotive News Europe, referring to modern-day designers. “If it’s left up to these hyper-conservative, hyper-terrified companies that are so huge, and where everything is resting on a bottom line that could go south at any minute … well, these are the last people to ask for the courage to go forward into the future. The last people.”

He continued. “They defend their brands like the virtue of Guinevere and they are doing it by putting a chastity belt around the girl and, sorry, that’s not how you make kids. That’s not how you make a future.”

Pushing memories of the prodigious rumps and glitter-lined peepers of the Bangle-designed 5, 6, and 7 Series models for a moment, the man’s comments aren’t without a solid nugget of truth. The previous decade brought with it a crop of daring vehicles, and with it, successes and flops. Leaving BMW out of it, we saw the Honda Element and Scion xB, the Nissan Cube and Toyota FJ Cruiser, the Chevrolet HHR and SSR, the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Dodge Magnum, plus the first-generation Nissan Murano. And that’s just the “boxy” segment.

Outside of Germany, where safe, conservative styling goes to thrive (now that Bangle’s gone), long and straight character lines and giant, gaping grilles are the order of the day. There’s reason for this, as “daring” is likely to keep one crop of buyers away while another salivates. Much safer to not offend. Or is it?

Notable duds have emerged from automakers’ attempts to play it safe. Think of the toned-down seventh-generation Hyundai Sonata, which even the automaker admits, “Didn’t turn heads.” Think of the ninth-generation Honda Civic, a bland, beancounter-designed car that disappointed journalists and forced the automaker into an emergency design refresh. Think of the eighth-generation Chevrolet Malibu, which garnered snores after the attractive, well-received seventh-generation model garnered sales.

Though the ANE story’s author kept the brand’s identity a secret, Bangle made one of BMW’s competitors the target of pointed criticism. Saying the brand makes great use of technology and has a “wonderful” stand at Frankfurt, Bangle claimed “they have really good designers, but I’ve seen this all before in other places.”

Burn. Suffice it to say that company probably doesn’t have Bangle’s name on its speed dial.

Still, we said Bangle was back in the game, and not just because he was mouthing off at an auto show. The designer claims he’s impressed with the outside-the-box attitude of startup companies, admitting that his design shop is working on a car for just such an outfit.

“It’s an existing company that comes from a manufacturing point of view — not an automaker,” he said, leaving its true identity a mystery. Bangle claims the company approached him to create a concept car more than a couple of years ago. The vehicle’s final design is now nearing completion, and its reveal should come “sooner than later.”

“I feel strongly enough about this that I would put my name on this,” he added.

Let your minds go wild.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)]

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44 Comments on “Chris Bangle to Automakers: You’re All Wimps and Your Designs Stink...”

  • avatar

    “They defend their brands like the virtue of Guinevere and they are doing it by putting a chastity belt around the girl and, sorry, that’s not how you make kids. That’s not how you make a future.”

    I see that quote in a future JB No Fixed Abode article. ;-)

  • avatar

    Too much capital involved, can you blame them?

    • 0 avatar

      At some point, you start wondering where all this capital is going. Prices keep going up, costs of production never seem to get under control, and corporate decision-makers fear even the slightest misstep will suddenly send their auto companies down the toilet.

      That’s not the picture of a healthy business model. That’s the picture of pre- and post-Amtrak USA passenger lines, pre-Ryanair airlines, and AMC before its bankruptcy. At least, from the outside looking in that’s what all this conservatism and risk-dodging reminds me of.

  • avatar

    He has always been a compelling advocate for design, and his ideas are innovative. But I think his BMW designs of the mid-2000s served his philosophy and self-promotion more than driving aesthetics. Frohlich’s F10 5-series is such a stunning improvement over Bangle’s matronly E60.

  • avatar

    I think he just strafed the people at Audi, where change comes at a pace roughly equaling a snail’s sprint.

    OTOH, there’s Toyota, where ugly has no limit.

  • avatar

    Oh I don’t know, lots of today’s Nissans and Lexus are every bit as ugly as the Bangle era BMWs.

  • avatar

    He did bring us the Z4…and no wing!
    I personally thought that was one ugly car for the $$.

  • avatar

    I’m willing to give automakers a bit of a break – a bit. Bangle designed RWD luxury cars where some extra expense was warranted, while most automakers live on cost-constrained mass produced product.

    Just look at the average FWD unibody shell without the front and rear clips. They’re designed for low-cost speed and ease of assembly, with the transverse engine and transaxle added to the shell, and you can barely tell them apart. That limits what you can do with design.

    We’ll have to wait until the automakers find a better way to inexpensively assemble cars, maybe body on frame, with RWD and V8/ transmission and full suspension already built into the frame before the body goes on. Then someone will “discover” the 3-box concept!

    • 0 avatar

      The “Bustle-back” was most recently re-offered on the 1980-1985 Cadillac Seville. However, the 1974 to 1976 Buick Riviera had a stylish version of this BMW theft many years earlier. I know, I have a 1975 Riviera!

  • avatar

    One of the most overrated car designers of all time, along with Henrik Fisker. Both made provocative designs, but very few were actually beautiful.

  • avatar

    The new car will be called Sputnik Bangcamino

  • avatar

    With the Electric Golden Age almost upon us, I hope to see the return of some of the design flourishes of the ’40s and ’50s. Cars back then were beautiful. Without the need to design for fuel efficiency, I can see styling and shapes that harken back to those cars coming back into vogue.

  • avatar

    You can see Bangle’s influence in the large number of cars that feature what some call “flame surfacing”, the use of concave and convex shapes on the same panels.

    • 0 avatar

      Isn’t the new Malibu just a rehash of what he was defecating out fifteen years ago?

    • 0 avatar

      I agree Ronnie, in fact I think it could be justified to say that Bangle has been the most influential auto designer of this century given the way so many of his styling elements have been copied by other automakers. That is not to say he has necessarily been the best designer aesthetically, but certainly the most influential.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve thought of that too. But I think that influence has more to do with BMW’s cachet than Bangle’s. Other makers have always copied BMW because they’re BMW.

  • avatar

    Who is he selling his imaginary robes to this time? Magna-Steyr? Valmet Automotive? I want to know whose stock to short.

  • avatar

    Chris Bangle is certainly infamous with the tagline, however ironic that so many other designers picked up on this and mimicked his converging fluidity once it became tolerable.

    Having been a 1 series junkie for many years, and only recently cured with my most recent addiction to S550 Mustangs, that E82 Bangle design has aged very well indeed.

  • avatar

    There’s a fine line between turning heads and turning stomachs, and some designs manage to do both at once.

  • avatar

    The E60 was the least terrible design (okay, maybe the Z4) but man the 7er and 6er were horrible.

    Unfortunately, his solution to bland was not the right one. The E34 and E39 were timeless and gorgeous.

    These days, BMW has gone on to compete with Lexus in making generic beigemobiles with beige interiors and tacked on chrome bits. Ironically, at the same time as Lexus is doing daring (though not necessarily attractive).

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree. I think the current BMW designs are miles above Lexus. Particularly the 6, which is one of the most beautiful cars on the road today.

      I’m with you on the E39 and E34 though. Timeless.

  • avatar

    “I feel strongly enough about this that I would put my name on this,” he added.

    Which leads us to wonder how many designs he’s not put his name to?

    ’15+ Prius?

  • avatar

    He should really go away. That was sone ugly sh*t.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Bangle couldn’t wipe Da Silva’s ass. I mean, really? Audi A5 versus any Bangle Butt disaster.

  • avatar

    ITT: People who are completely missing the point. It doesn’t matter what you think of his designs, he had a design ethos and his creations broke the 3-box mold. Much like abstract paintings, just because you don’t personally like it doesn’t mean it’s not art

    • 0 avatar

      This. BMW’s design language (which was mostly just refining the design of the Corvair and Datsun 510 until infinity) in the early 90’s was so predictable that the Japanese made their successors before BMW did it themselves. (Lexus IS, Misubishi Galant/Sigma ) Even Bangles first job was still quite a bore (E46)
      They had no choice but to ‘go wild’ and try other things. Did all the cars turn out beatiful? No. But they were definitely recognisable, and it gave BMW a way out and forwards.

      • 0 avatar

        This is true. Perhaps this is analogous to the Beatles’ release of Sgt. Pepper, which was a sharp right turn for them and had many of their fans scratching their heads. They got away with it because they were megastars by then, but there was also genius in that album and it set the stage for greatness to come. In the end, Bangle’s “giant rock in the pond” may have been more important to the industry than his offputting styling cues.

        Still, I maintain you don’t have to sacrifice beauty for innovation, e.g., i8.

  • avatar

    Not only is Bangle guilty of unconscionably bad design flourishes, he’s self-centered, rude, obnoxious and insulting.
    Go back to wherever you went to when you left, we’re sorry you were ever here.

    In all fairness, his designs weren’t the only ugly vehicles, as cpthaddock’s list so clearly shows, but Bangle took decent designs and made them unnecessarily ugly.

  • avatar

    Other than the Z4 I never did like Bangles designs, but my biggest beef is his attitude.

    “Other cars are so boring! Why can’t they be as innovative and creative and special as me?”

    This mentality is rampant in the indie game industry, where every game is a shallow 8 bit platformer forgery, not unlike Bangles styling.

    I’m sure that “flame surfacing” makes parking lot dings cheap to fix.

  • avatar

    Most of his designs were awful and they really aged poorly to boot.

  • avatar

    The Fiat Coupe is still iconic, and I agree with the sentiment that he’s the most influential car designer of the millennium so far.

    Also to the list of daring vehicles of the last decade….this decade has brought us the Juke, C-HR, Crosstour, Veloster, CR-Z , Evoque (and convertible), Paceman, Panamera Sport Turismo, and that’s just in the North American market. I don’t think 2010s design is any less (or more) daring than the 2000s.

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