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‘7’ Up on elegance

Familiar but different: Styling work for the F01/2 7 Series began in 2004.

BMW says its new 7 Series builds on styling themes set by its controversial forebear

14 Oct 2008

BMW SOUGHT to combine new-found elegance with the modernity and presence of the outgoing 7 Series for the latest version, which is heading to Australia in the first quarter of next year.

This is according to BMW’s director of design, Adrian van Hooydonk, speaking to GoAuto at the international launch of the fifth-generation 7 Series in Germany earlier this month.

“We thought about the character that we wanted the vehicle to express... and a top-of-the-line vehicle has to exude elegance,” he underlined.

Mr Hooydonk added that he is unapologetic about the widespread controversy that the outgoing, E65/6 7 series has aroused since 2001, stating that radical design was essential if BMW was to move forward in the early part of this past decade.

Styling work for the new, F01/2 7 Series commenced in 2004, with 130 designers employed in competition with each other in California and Singapore as well as Munich, to achieve Mr van Hooydonk’s stated goal of elegance.

All had to work within the set BMW character descriptions of a long bonnet, setback cabin and long wheelbase, but build on the strengths that have helped make the outgoing 7 Series the most successful in the car’s 31-year history.

Mr Hooydonk is adamant that it is striking design as much as driving dynamics that has helped lure younger buyers to the big BMW sedan in North America.

“In the previous car presence was the sole strong styling element,” he explained.

“And it is something that actually helped us to achieve market success in several corners of the world (including) Asia and the United States.

“We have people (there) who are 40 to 45 years old who are driving a 7 Series – and they want a sporty car.

“So, of course when we began to think about the new car, we were aiming to emulate that market success.”

However, the BMW design team needed to think about the 7 Series’ core buyer demographic as well, which respond to a somewhat different aesthetic to the Americans.

“In Europe, elegance and sportiness is the key,” Mr Hooydonk revealed. “So how to do all in one car was the challenge.”

14 center imageLeft: BMW’s director of design, Adrian van Hooydonk.

Under the guidance of stylist Karim Habib, BMW’s team used the nose of the new car to demonstrate presence most, with its oversized kidney grille, full-length air-take underneath and bulging bonnet, but subtle surfacing work elsewhere on the vehicle helped achieve sophistication.

“We chose to concentrate that on the front-end, because it is what people see most on a car when, let’s say, it is parked in the front of a hotel or from the rear-view mirror,” Mr Hooydonk stated.

Using light and shadow, he added that the car looks smaller and lighter than it is despite being larger than the previous model, which is a plus-point for the 7 Series’ more traditional European buyer base.

Meanwhile, although the rear of the latest 7 Series abandons the bustle-backed look of its highly controversial predecessor, the design chief says BMW did not concede to criticism or public pressure, and that there is simply more sophistication at play here.

“We have gone for a more integrated look, Mr Hooydonk admits.

“(After all) we wanted to do something different. But if you look at the overall shape of the car, it is also fair to say that it is maybe even more complex than the previous car. I believe we have done it in a fairly subtle way.”

He also dismissed comments that the latest 7 Series is too conservative, saying that time and familiarity with the design will reveal just how progressive the new styling really is.

“We do see this car as a very modern design, and that it will stand up to the test of time.

“I believe that this car – in its shape – is more complex than the previous one (which was) more shocking, or challenging.

“And not just because of the shape that it had, actually – but also because it was such a radical departure from what we were doing before. And it wasn’t alone in that, because along came the Z4 at around the same time, and of course then we had two BMWs that couldn’t have been more different.

“It was a deliberate move on our behalf... and it was a move that we felt was necessary in order to widen the form vocabulary of the brand.

“And (so) that has led to everything that has come after that we offer to not look like such a radical departure anymore.”“We believe that the previous car – like this one – embodies more than just luxury. It’s about achieving maximum effect with minimum amount of elements.

Mr Hooydonk said that BMW was very aware of the widespread criticism that the original version of the last 7 Series attracted during 2001 and 2002.

“We couldn’t help noticing,” he laughed. “Of course you are aware of it – we are not blind or deaf!” Yet Mr Hooydonk says he is grateful for it, believing that the experience not only helped sell more cars, it also set the tone for future models to build and evolve on, which will ultimately give the brand heritage in the future.

“I’ve met many people who have told me what they liked and what they didn’t like.

“Luckily I also met a lot of customers who liked the previous car, and overall over 300,000 people either bought one or drive one, and are very happy with it.

“So in the end that all balances out, and what remains is that we sold more of that car than the previous generation – and that for us is a big thing – and it also opened up more markets for us.

“And it moved the brand’s design vocabulary forward – yes, it didn’t do it on its own with the Z4 and other models – but it did give us designers room to move.

“A luxury brand like BMW needs to be recognisable. There needs to be a lineage that people can trace back to our roots, and this is also important because it gives the brand authenticity. But more than that, it gives the brand a future. Customers need to know: ‘Is this a brand that will be relevant in the future – a brand that is thinking about the future?’“And for that, a company and a designer sometimes needs to take a bigger step, and needs to take some risks.

“You have to keep moving,” he stated.

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