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Chris Bangle: Damned by success

Posted by: Gail Edmondson on January 12, 2006

Leftlane news notes today that BMW Group Chief Designer Christopher Bangle has gone from car design pariah to messiah, based on the fleet of BMW look-alike models cropping up on rivals’ stands at the Detroit Auto Show this week. Mild-mannered Toyota, which once mimicked Mercedes’ staid lines, is now clearly aiming now at high-flying BMW with the more emotional styling of its new IS and LS models. Even rival Mercedes, which lost the global lead in premium car sales to BMW this year, is taking on Bimmer attributes, with models that boast a more muscular, dynamic stance — just look at the new S Class.

But is all that flattering imitation going to be good for BMW? Bangle’s achievement was to make BMW stand out from the pack. His controversial design turned heads. Even that big heavy 7 Series bumper — “The Bangle Butt” — which didn’t look half as big on US roads, got everyone talking about BMW. Love Bangle or hate him, BMW rose above the controversy as a design innovator. Bangle’s cohort, Adrian van Hooydonk (now head of BMW Brand design), told me last month that BMW will stick with the new design language eight years — a full model generation — through 2010. But that’s starting to look like a risky bet. If Toyota, Mercedes and Infiniti start borrowing from BMW’s distinctive look, the provactive will become the banal. Just listen to the buzz in Germany, picked up over lunch today with a car expert in Frankfurt: “Mercedes is starting to look like Lexus.” I doubt BMW’s management will wait until Germans are making similarly snide remarks about its cars. I’d wager BMW’s execs are really mortified by Bangle’s imitators at the Detroit Show. Before BMW goes stale, Bangle and van Hooydonk better hurry back to the sketching pad and dream up a new outrageous look for BMW.

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Reader Comments


July 13, 2006 06:41 AM

Typical for Toyota to go out and "borrow" designs ...
Remember how Lexus LS 430 copy pasted the Mercedes S-class design? Still hard to believe that one ...
What will Toyota do next ? Take a good look at the new BMW design and "borrow" a few items too ?

John Teeter

July 27, 2006 08:13 PM

Inasmuch as operations such as Toyota (Lexus) do provide reliability as perhaps their best asset, which, by the way is NOT exclusive to that brand, in the end, no surprise, I still wind-up looking to BMW and some other German marques as the best leading edge designers.

Ya, the stuck-in-the-mud cronies have started a petition to somehow overthrow Chris Bangle. How absurd. As if they could even draw a straight line with a ruler. I can't. And that means they cannot, either.

So, look to too often uninspiring faux copy-cat designs coming out of boring Toyota or Nissan and while BMW ain't for everyone, least of which not being Earl and Clyde sitting up there in the stands at Talladega, complete in their wife beater t-shirts and ensuing "ensemble", and while that which is Deutsch could never be for the rice rocket set, I'll continue to be happily dumb and go the Munich route and thank the gods that Art Center College of Design accepted Chris Bangle. Moreover BMW.


August 13, 2006 08:58 AM

Typical for Toyota to go out and "borrow" designs ...
Remember how Lexus LS 430 copy pasted the Mercedes S-class design? Still hard to believe that one ...
What will Toyota do next ? Take a good look at the new BMW design and "borrow" a few items too ?


September 13, 2006 08:33 AM

i love the new design, in fact thats what attracted me to it in the first place, im with chris bangle all the way, thank you chris for designing my dream car- its unique, not plain.

Anti Bangle

October 1, 2006 10:55 PM

For that NEW BMW OWNER, if Chris Bangle's design is what brought you to BMW, I feel so sorry for you, you really missed the train mate, where were you when BMWs had the shark nose? I bet you were driving a Daewoo or something, admiring its beauty every time you see it, well maybe we will see you owning Hyundai if some idiot start designing for them.
You are weird, I sure hope you wear your shoes in your feet not around your eyes idiot.

Random Guy

November 5, 2006 10:57 PM

There's no point sticking to tradition otherwise all bmw would still be the same as they were 20 years ago. Chris Bangle is a design master, and other car companies also agree as there cars are now becoming more and more like Bangle's designs, like the nuw lexus' and the Holden Commordore. If you think his designs are bad, then you really don't know much about automotive design.


January 29, 2007 02:22 PM

Chris Bangle is ,in my opinion, an example of what all designers hope to be. He sparks all kinds of contraversy yet his designs sell like hot cakes. People either love him or hate him and that is why he is succesful. Very few people have an apathetic reation to his designs.

-Brad Johnson
Industrial designer


April 18, 2007 01:25 PM

Aw dudes what are ye talking about? I saw the old 3 series parked up against the new one the other week and I have to say the old model still has it. Bangles bimmer (especially at the rear with those awful lights) just looks ordinary veering on ugly :(

arthur Young

May 29, 2007 01:48 AM

Chris Bangles designs are genius. The Play of concave and convex surfaces, the horizontal and vertical transition usage of a single peice of metal. The seamless integration of rear and front lights give BMW so much depth. His designs are a pretty much perfect. My favourites: 6 series, Z4, 3 series and 7 series. These designs represent forward thinking, and i think in time, people will realize that.

I wish i could work for BMW Design team. it wouldn't even be work.

Wael El Ashry

August 6, 2007 09:21 AM

Just because other auto makers are copying (Chris) Bangle's design doesn't make him a design genius. They always copy BMW so nothing new there. The problem is that BMW hired a designer who creates more controversy than auto designs that adhere to the brand's key attributes. The new 3 series e90 stinks in design, the new 7 Series is the biggest auto mess on the road today. I really miss the BMWs of the late 80s and 90s.

John Haus

August 7, 2007 01:05 PM

I'm not sure what drugs you are all smoking, but how can you....I mean how in the h**l can you ever think the Lexus IS, looks like the BMW 3 series. For one, the Lexus IS stance. It looks as if it's about to pounce on the car in front of it. (Sorry, Bimmer folks, it would have pounced on the BMW 335i, but it's behind the Lexus Is 350). Then the muscled hood and the short rear trunk lid. Looks nothing like a BMW. If it did, no way would I ever buy a Lexus, since Bimmers are a dime a dozen.


August 12, 2007 10:40 PM

One of the pillars of BMW's greatness is the design of their cars, and one amazing thing is that with every new evolution of the models they achieved to innovate and modernize shapes and style without losing the core essence that really defines the brand (Look for example the change from E36 to E46) ... Until Mr Bangle came.
This guy is an excellent designer (who denies it) but he's not for BMW. His aim was to revitalize the BMW desing, give new strength to the BMW essence, but instead of that he just changed that essence for one of his own.
Maybe a blond longhaired Superman would seem cuter but he wouldn't be the true Superman anymore, right?

Joe C.

September 20, 2007 04:00 PM

I agree with Alex. If Oldsmobile is thinking about making a come back and wanted a new look, Bangle would be the perfect guy. Let's see how much people like his designs when they're on an Oldsmobile and not a brand cache cow like BMW.


October 7, 2007 10:54 AM

Sorry, Z4 is UGLY. 7-series, not so bad--until you see that butt. I'll stick with my E30, thanks.

Zat German

December 5, 2007 12:59 PM

Chris Bangle.....tsk tsk. I dunno what's wrong with BMW designers these days but i guess they've forgotten what BMW is all about. "The ultimate driving machine"...that angry shark that stops at a light that high-reving 6 (or if you are oldschool the e30's 4), that machine that screams with pleasure when driven hard. And this was apparent with all models, yes even the 7. But now BMW has turned into Mercedes! luxury with big motors, computers that send your actions through a judge and jury, and as if that wasn't enough that round bubble like body with smooth curves that make it seem like a nurse shark instead of a great white. I will never look at bmw again with the same passion i did before. BMW design died with the e39 and the e46.

BMW Buri

December 16, 2007 04:35 AM

He is making everyone get used to the new bmw look. I said that I would never get used to the 7 series, 3 series and M coupe but now I love them all. i just don't think hes drawings are too bmw-ish. When you look at Mercedes, you say wow they are killing bmw with their designs. Think of the new c class, e class, ml, sl face lift, clk. they are all superb. When you look at bmw, its hard to see which models are indeed good looking. 3 series, 5 series and the 6 series. The rest, chuck in the bin. The best years of the bmw imo are from 1991-2002.

Mahomed Zaheer

January 15, 2008 08:25 AM

I like Chris styling and design. he has captured the essence of BMW. The charicteristics of the previous BMWs are in his design. look closely and feel the design and you will see what I am talking about. Chris you have done a great job. Keep it up!


January 21, 2008 05:07 PM

Did everyone forget that Bangle was responsible for the E46? It's probably one of the best designed and engineered cars that BMW produced. Yeah, I'm a little on the fence about the current crop (with the exception of the new 6 series and the upcoming 1 series), but Bangle's got to stay ahead of the pack, and I think he's done a great job distinguishing the brand.

dick turpin

February 9, 2008 04:30 PM

We are peasants when it comes to new car shapes Bangle was right. It takes a while to become accustomed to new designs, Europeans lead asians copy. Witness 35mm SLR's DKW 125 RT, Kraftwerk,Bauhaus, Mozart ICBMs Apollo etc etc.


August 19, 2009 08:40 AM

After the historic 60's-70's '1602-2002'(!), my favorite BMW's car is my E46-Ci/2002 (Coupe). Even I hate the other designs of him, except the great ‘Z4’, Chr. Bangle is already a legend!

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