BMW's Bangle gladly takes the heat, remains committed to design direction Bangle in his latest BMW, the 1 series. By BRADFORD WERNLE | Automotive News Europe (08:26 June 14, 2004) MUNICH -- For a man who has been reviled on the web as a "diabolical super robot sent from the future by Mercedes-Benz to destroy BMW," Chris Bangle is a pretty calm, cool and collected guy. Despite the scathing criticisms he's received, BMW's controversial design chief remains resolutely committed to design that looks forward. Retro and Chris Bangle do not go together. He is pleased that some of his critics are beginning to grudgingly approve of some of BMW's futuristic styling. Interviewed in the design theater at BMW's engineering center in Munich, Bangle has put the new 1 Series on display for the session. His eyes continually stray to the new car, which he is clearly proud of. Contrary to some industry rumors, Bangle says he has no intention to leave BMW any time soon. This in spite of the fact that Adrian van Hooydonk of BMW's Design Works in Los Angeles has been named to be head of BMW brand design. The job is a new title, Bangle says. Bangle says he was doing two jobs -- heading design for BMW brand and for BMW Group, which includes Mini and Rolls-Royce. With Van Hooydonk on board, Bangle will be free to do his job as group design chief. "What was missing until now was to get all the players on my team that could be responsible for their various marques," he says. "Adrian will come into a role that did not exist before. There was not the role of just the BMW car design chief." Bangle points out that a car company's designs, particularly BMW, are not the work of any one man. BMW's designs are the result of extensive research into form, a well-thought-out corporate philosophy and a committed team effort. He knows not everyone likes BMW's designs but he is gratified that some critics seem to be changing their minds. The New York Times once said of Bangle: "Many devotees view him as an interloping artiste sullying the exalted Bimmer by trying to foist on it his version of hipness." Asked whether the anti-Bangle websites and relentless criticism bothered him, Bangle says: "You can only say 'all right, I have a good positive attitude,' remember what you're doing and that you did it for a reason. You did it with a lot of people who support you and you support them. They're looking to you for an example, to show some kind of fiber." Bangle is comfortable taking the heat. He relishes his new job as group design chief overseeing BMW, Rolls-Royce and Mini. "A very important part of what a group design chief should do is work on the people balance. We have a philosophy here at BMW of trying to get the most out of a single designer on a car instead of taking a car and splitting it up among 20 people." Bangle first became the flashpoint of criticism when the radical 7 Series appeared in 2001. The 7 Series was the first to feature the so-called "Bangle butt." The BMW desgin chief remembers the atmosphere in which the 7 Series launch was planned. "As we got closer to the launch communication of the car, it was heading into that famous year 2000 wall [Y2K], which was the peak of retro. You never heard the word emotion coming from designers like you do now. There was a fear of technology, a fear of change. A fear of moving forward is naturally a part of a century change. Don't forget, we were all afraid our toasters were going in league with our refrigerators." With its iDrive controller system and its sculpted exterior, the 7 Series was "quite honestly a large jump for the company," Bangle says. He denies the forthcoming 7 series facelift is being done in response to criticism. "The 7 Series is no different than any other product. When the right time comes in its product cycle, it will also get its treatment." With its newest BMW model, the 1 Series, BMW wants to prove that small cars can be premium cars. "This car does the job of premium, not the same way as the Mini, but more in the way of a classic BMW. The drive dynamic, the whole package has the look and feel that tells you it's about serious professionalism at work." Looking at the 1 Series wagon admiringly, he says: "That car's a rocket. That car is just tearing off. With front-engine, rear-drive proportions, that's what you do. When you look at the car from the side for any length of time, you realize you've never seen a car with those proportions." Bangle has had the backing of the BMW management board throughout his turbulent tenure. But he prefers talking about the future to talking about the past. At the moment, he's thinking a lot about China, where BMW just opened an assembly plant. Bangle is intrigued to see what kinds of vehicles Chinese customers will want. He believes the future of car design is evolving rapidly in the face of new technology, relentless competition, and ever more sophisticated consumers. "We've gone through three major phases in the 100 odd years of personal motor vehicle that changed the look and feel of cars. We could easily be entering a new fourth phase. But, we have to get this industry focused on how to make cars differently. And, I'm saying this not just so that designers can have new toys to play with. I'm saying this because the demands of our customers are so high and the demands of the marketplace are so intense."