LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Composing Design at BMW


As BMW presents its first limited edition, a 7 series inspired by Steinway pianos, head of design Adrian van Hooydonk talks about customizing vehicles, internet connected cars and what the cars of the future will look like.

At the launch of the BMW 7 series Individual Composition Inspired by Steinway, the head of design at BMW Adrian van Hooydonk explained where exactly his latest vehicle is in tune with the piano maker. “Steinway have not experimented much with the shape of their pianos in 150 years because they have achieved the best sound. What they do instead is perfect the way they build them. In the same vein, I thought it would be too much to do a lot of shape in this project. We took the car as it is but tried to perfect every corner of it.”

And so a regular BMW 7 series is constructed using the finest materials and craftsmanship. Outside, each layer of the black or white paintwork is polished by hand to achieve a finish comparable to piano lacquer. Inside, carpets are lambswool and both the seats and panelling are upholstered in fine-grain leather. Direct references to pianos are absent (“We wanted to be careful that it didn’t become a caricature”, says van Hooydonk”), but a stellar sound system complete with Steinway CDs is installed.

Produced in a run of just 100 cars, the BMW inspired by Steinway is the first limited edition unit created by BMW Individual, a branch of the car manufacturer with its own design team dedicated to customizing cars to individual customers’ preferences. It’s a service which is becoming ever more popular. “At Rolls Royce almost 70% of cars are bespoke,” says van Hooydonk, who as Director of Group Design at BMW oversees not only the latest BMWs, but also Rolls Royces and Minis. “At BMW it is growing, especially in certain regions, where it is key for the customer to have not just the latest BMW but preferably a BMW like no other.”

As the number of customized cars increase, so too will the limited editions. “I see the chance for the design team to create more projects like the BMW Individual Composition,” notes van Hooydonk. “Luxury watchmakers are doing this as well, with new pieces that come in an edition of only 50.”

Offering customers exclusive models is just one way that BMW is reacting to the increasingly sophisticated and younger driver of luxury cars. “When I grew up, the car was the one thing that made you move and see new things. It was something that gave you freedom,” comments van Hooydonk. “Today we live in an information society, which means in a certain sense, you don’t have to travel to see something different,” he says of the fundamental change in the function of a car.

With this new driver in mind, van Hooydonk believes that the car industry has been slow to adopt the internet. “Sneakers have connectivity, refrigerators too. Why not cars?” he asks. “BMW is at the forefront of the way you interact with the car,” he responds. “We offer connectivity packages, and iPhone apps that allow you to play with the car even when you are nowhere near it.”

Since joining BMW in 1992, van Hooydonk has been instrumental in implementing this new technology, as well being the designer of several of its flagship models. The lines of the 7 series, Z9 concept car and M1 Homage all exhibit his influence. As head of design at BMW since 2004, the Z4, the forthcoming Vision Efficient Dynamics sports car and the about to be launched new 6 series in particular display his hand.

What does the future hold for BMW and the automobile industry beyond these new car launches? Van Hooydonk answers: “If I have anything to do with it, one thing will stay: that is, cars need to be emotionally attractive. The finest technology, whether it is drive trains, emissions or safety, no longer sell a vehicle. Those are rational reasons to buy a car but the first glance and the first touch is what draws people in.”

At the Steinway factory in Hamburg, head of design at BMW Adrian van Hooydonk talked to about bespoke vehicles, the purpose of concept cars and the future of luxury automobiles.

Adrian van Hooydonk on luxury:
Luxury is becoming more individual. Many years ago, luxury was a box that people were either in or not in. Now, those boxes don’t exist. There is an interesting book called Trading Up that discusses this. People are doing a lot of cross-referencing and cross shopping. They make distinct and personal decisions. Some customers might put importance on watches and will go quite far in terms of spending money on that. But then they will spend much less in other areas. People are harder to categorize. One thing is for sure: more people are sophisticated in their knowledge of what is good and what is not good in terms of manufacturing, design and quality. People are making more educated and personal choices.

You have just revealed your collaboration with Steinway – what is the synergy between BMW and Steinway?
The same ideas and goals in terms of striving for perfection, attention to detail and trying to be the best at what we do. There’s also a shared spirit that I saw when I was shown through the Steinway workshops. There was already a relationship between BMW and Steinway as many years back Albrecht Graf von Goertz had designed both the BMW 507 as well as a piano for Steinway.

The car was designed by BMW Individual, an entity with its own design team. What is the role of Individual?
The idea was and is to allow customers to specify the car exactly to their liking. As much as people would like to do that, they also want guidance and advice. Sometimes they challenge engineers because, for example, they want a totally different door system. Sometimes they challenge the designers in the sense they want to achieve a certain look and we’re not sure how to make it at first. But with one-off Individual cars, we always find a way.

Can Individual commissions by private customers result in external changes to the car?
Yes. We get this question more at Rolls Royce. At BMW we have come up with an interesting technology that allows some changes in the exterior metal – changing or adding lines – without retooling (the process of building huge and powerful pressing machines). We have done this on the 6 series and Z4M coupe, where we added two crease lines on the bonnet that were not there before. We can change the whole shape of the car but then you have to do crash testing again and maybe tooling again. Then it’s a question of money.

Aston Martin recently announced it will put its Cygnet city car concept into production. What do you predict for the future of luxury cars in terms of shape?
I think there will be a large variety of concepts and architectures. Of course, drive trains are going to change significantly. But if I have anything to do with it, one thing will stay: that is, cars need to be emotionally attractive. The finest technology, whether it is drive trains, emissions or safety, no longer sell a vehicle. Those are rational reasons to buy a car but the first glance and the first touch is what draws people in.

How is BMW preparing for the future?
We’re working on an electric city car and we’ve just announced that we’re going to do a new type of sports car. Both should see light of day in 2013. The sports car will be a plug-in hybrid, a vehicle that you can drive electrically in the city and outside of the city you can use conventional power. It has a range of 700km, so is perfectly useable wherever you want to go. It will perform like a true sports car if you want or it will have zero emissions and zero noise in the city if you like that.

BMW present some of the most fantastic looking concept cars, but what is the purpose of these models?
It is sometimes testing and sometimes preparing the market for new ideas. With a concept the design team gets a great opportunity to run free and just deliver the shape without having to fulfil all the legal requirements. We deliver an idea in its purest form. For instance, at last year’s Frankfurt motor show we presented a concept car called Vision Efficient Dynamics. This was and is our idea of a sports car of the future. It started as a free project where we were asked to give a face to the new fuel saving technology that is coming. We designed a car that combined things that seem impossible: the performance of a BMW M3 with the fuel consumption of a small car like the Toyota Prius. It’s the plug in hybrid car that the company has decided to build.

Which BMW do you drive?
I drive a BMW Z4. I have our connectivity package in my car. My secretary can email me an address to the car that I can then use as a navigation target. I can check the news, select an article and the car then reads it to me through the radio speakers.

BMW collaborated with Patricia Urquiola at this year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan. Why didn’t she design a car?
The first thing she told me was that she didn’t want to design a car and she doesn’t know how to do that. She was overwhelmed by that idea. She was worried that she wasn’t going to be able to even relate to a car because she didn’t have a personal relationship with the car that she owned. Instead, we gave her an interesting but difficult assignment. We showed her the 5 series GT, which is about inner luxury more than external luxury, and asked her to help show that this car was designed from the inside out. She solved this problem with an installation that forces you to see the interior of the car before you see the exterior. Now she has a relationship to cars. In a way, we converted someone who didn’t like cars and now does.

This year BMW presented its latest art car by Jeff Koons. Do you work with the artists on this project or are they given free rein?
They get carte blanche but I’m in the fortunate position to then meet these artists. Since I’ve been Director of Group Design at BMW, I’ve met Olafur Eliasson several times. I visited his studio in Berlin and spent the whole day being quizzed by him. And I met Jeff Koons several times. I realised when talking to them that they also have a design team and people who manufacture their art for them. And they have multiple projects going on at the same time. When I met Olafur, he was working on over 100 projects. There were more parallels to our lives and jobs than I thought.

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