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BMW details design future

Big mouth: BMW design is changing focus, with the iconic kidney grille returning to its original vertical look.

If lines are reduced, details must become bolder, according to BMW

2 May 2018

BMW i Division design specialist Robert Forrest has confessed that several premium car-makers have found themselves at a “crossroads” between design cues that are neutral and “smartphone” inspired, and more expressive details.

Speaking at the international media launch of the i8 Roadster in Majorca, Spain, last week, Mr Forrest said that he believed – without naming rivals – the trend towards blank surfaces and feature-less details was a case of Apple iPhone minimal design being ill-suited to moving vehicles, adding that BMW’s i Division had started to test bolder design cues.

“I think that we seem to be at a bit of a crossroads somehow, where a lot of car companies are exploring, kind of like consumer electronic-inspired, or influenced designs, where the design is more neutral, and much cleaner,” he told GoAuto.

“And I think we aren’t designing smartphones, we’re designing moving products that have air whipping past them, that are turning into corners, and to try and carry that sense of dynamic energy into surfaces (that) just come with being a car, and with being a high-performing car.

“When you take, say, a smartphone-inspired car, you tend to reduce feature lines. You tend to have a more simplified black-body colour combination, in terms of the overall read of the car, and it can become a little bit staid and can be slab sided.”

While Mr Forrest insisted that “that’s just a generic translation, that’s non-brand specific,” a car-maker that has openly expressed a desire to reduce styling lines and features with its vehicles is arch-rival Mercedes-Benz.

In particular, Benz designers have deliberately removed character creases and other details for their latest generation versions of the CLS and A-Class models.

However, as previously reported by GoAuto, BMW Group design chief Adrian van Hooydonk has also previously indicated that fewer lines would be part of the car-maker’s future design – yet with an emphasis on making the remaining lines bolder and the details more intricate.

“I mean fewer lines have been around for the past half a century, so I don’t think that’s necessarily a new thing, but we seem to be finding some appreciation for them now that certain companies are pursuing more that direction,” Mr Forrest continued.

“We always look for cleanliness. (But) you can still have an avant-garde theme that has been really well resolved, and that still is clean, but it’s not empty. I think emptiness in design is something that we try to avoid.

“Somehow it’s about making sure that we don’t commoditise design. And so I think those are determinants that will be there still with electric cars.”

Mr Forrest added that the reasoning behind BMW’s recent trend towards more imposing, vertically extended versions of the car-maker’s traditional double-kidney grille, for example, was to test the public’s appetite for bolder design cues.

Predominantly seen on BMW i Division concept vehicles – such as the X7 iPerformance, iX3 and i Vision Dynamics – Mr Forrest explained that the move to larger, more upright grilles was a decision based on, “I think, in a word, presence.

“It’s to make the front bolder and it also draws on the heritage that BMW has.

“The vertical kidneys are something that we’ve always had, in fact moving horizontally was the radical move that we found a new way to do, it is something that’s been on the designer’s sketchbook for a while and now we’re really trying to see how it's being received by the public.”

While the likes of the i3 and i8 have been radical departures from BMW styling norms owing to their unique platform and construction, the iX3 medium SUV will become the first BMW i Division model to look like the X3 on which it is based.

The BMW i Division design specialist revealed that how the next-generation of i models would look, compared with mainstream BMWs, was currently a topic of discussion inside Munich headquarters.

He added that the differences between BMW and BMW i in the future could be similar to that of BMW and BMW M.

“I think we already have the M and the motorsport divisions, so we already have the more intense stand-alone letter, and then we have the other packet, and i Performance is equivalent to that,” Mr Forrest said.

“So I don’t necessarily see a convergence (of styling between BMW and BMW i) but I think that’s also something that’s been discussed in brand strategy.”

With the i3 and i8 in the latter years of their lifecycle, BMW i will focus its attention on the iX3, as well as the i4 medium-sized five-door liftback and autonomous-driving technology iNext flagship all due to lob within three years.

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