Shop Talk: BMW Design Language and the New 6-Series Coupe

Designer Karim Habib has spent more than ten years with BMW, most recently holding responsibility for the 2010 7-series and the 2007 Concept CS. After a two-year stint with Mercedes-Benz, he’s back at BMW as the head of exterior design. We recently met with Habib to discuss the new 6-series coupe and other design issues facing BMW. Here’s what he had to say…

…on the 1971 3.0 CS and its influence on modern BMW design It doesn’t have wedge, but it has some very important things that determine what a BMW is. Even at the time we very much put a lot of focus on the long wheelbase, then the long hood, and cab rearward. The Hofmeister kink: on every car we do it’s there—in a different shape, a different proportion, treated differently—but it’s always there. The crease line, it’s also there in all of our cars.

With the chrome inlay side graphics, we treat it not as we did in the past, but we do it as an anchor point in the way we sculpture. It really is the center point. Above there’s light, below there’s shade, and then there’s more light—there’s muscle—around it. We’ve taken this icon and developed it into a much more sculptural, integral element of the car.

…on the new 6-series With a 6-series, obviously, it should be a pretty unique car. It definitely has to be a statement, but we try to focus on what we’re trying to achieve in terms of character. We know that in the case of this car, we really wanted to play this sensual aspect, sensual sportiness as we called it. If you see this with respect to the previous car, you can see there’s a lot more sculpture, a lot more play with light and shadow.

…on the interior If we’re talking about a cabrio, the symbiosis between exterior and interior is essential to have the spirit of the car. We talk about sculpture on the exterior; we also work hard at it on the interior. Obviously function, ergonomics, materials are essential in an interior, but also sculpting—how do you create these volumes, how do you create the space, and how do you create flow? The 6-series, a sporty car, things have to flow inside and out.

…on the previous 6-series I don’t know if I would say that the last 6-series was polarizing. It had a very strong character but worked really well in those proportions. For every car that we do there’s always something that works and something that doesn’t work and we think about it for the next generation. We tried to think what are we trying to achieve with this, we set goals for a certain character that we talked about or what kind of design evolution we want to achieve.

…on the BMW design language We obviously have a family identity with BMW, but we work hard at trying to get different characters. You’ll find a lot of different things that are similar in the cars, but the ways they’re interpreted are very different. For example, the crease line: you can see on the 7-series how it’s much more horizontal than it is on the 3-series or the 5-series and the 6-series.

…on designing within the constraints of regulations and engineering requirements Sometimes it’s more rewarding as a designer. You have a certain frame in which you have to work and if you feel you’ve achieved the level of creativity within that framework, it’s sometimes more rewarding than if you just do blue-sky things. And in the end, I think a lot of product designers like that challenge.

…on the BMW design process

With every model, we start with sketches and it usually goes on for a few months if we’re really lucky and a few weeks if we have an emergency project, which does happen. From there, there’s a selection within the design department, from which sketches do we make models? We usually start on the computer using 3D software and that goes on for a few weeks as well. From there, we select again. Let’s say we had twenty proposals, we take about six that we do in the computer, from there we select four that go on to be clay models. We do four clay models for about four months. Then we go from four to two and another four months. At the end of those eight months, we then make a selection. The one model is then worked on in clay for another six months and then the design is pretty much frozen.

…on the design of the i cars It is a sub-brand and it will have a different character, a different identity than our core values. But it is a sub-brand, so there is still a BMW in there somewhere.

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