BMW’S up­mar­ket push A fresh slant on lux­ury

BMW is rein­vent­ing its de­sign phi­los­o­phy and shift­ing up­mar­ket with new, dis­tinctly flavoured lux­ury mod­els. Richard Brem­ner investigates


Bay­erische Mo­toren Werke. The spelling out of the BMW name in full, and the use of a black and sil­ver roundel (rather than the fa­mous blue and white pro­pel­ler logo), are among the more sub­tle in­di­ca­tors of a sig­nif­i­cant change of di­rec­tion for the Mu­nich-based man­u­fac­turer.

A new de­sign lan­guage is emerg­ing for both the in­te­ri­ors and ex­te­ri­ors of its cars. The brand is go­ing to stretch it­self fur­ther up­mar­ket. And it’s pre­sent­ing it­self in new ways. That’s for the main­stream BMWS, for the elec­tri­fied i-brand cars and for the newly des­ig­nated lux­ury mod­els, whose print, TV and on­line pre­sen­ta­tion will be ac­com­pa­nied by that BMW name in full, and the black and sil­ver badge.

At the re­cent Frank­furt mo­tor show, where this new sig­nage could be seen above a dis­play of spe­cial 7 Se­ries saloons (one yacht-in­spired ex­ploratory ver­sion of which has wooden floor mats…), BMW also rolled out its hand­some 8 Se­ries con­cept, the rather less el­e­gant X7 show car and an elec­tric i Vi­sion Dy­nam­ics saloon with a twin kid­ney grille of rather star­tling pro­por­tions.

In­deed, the grilles of all three con­cepts vary sub­stan­tially in shape, tex­ture, pro­por­tion and form, and are all fur­ther clues to BMW’S change of tack. Which is a lot more sub­stan­tial even than the re­shap­ing and re­colour­ing of BMW’S most fa­mous vis­ual sig­na­tures, as the com­pany’s prod­uct man­age­ment and de­sign chiefs ex­plain.

“There are a cou­ple of things that hap­pened in par­al­lel in the BMW Group,” says BMW Group de­sign boss Adrian van Hooy­donk, who ex­plains the ge­n­e­sis of this shift.

“First, ex­pand­ing at the top end of our range is some­thing that we’ve been want­ing to do for a while. We be­lieve that there’s room to do so – ac­tu­ally our cus­tomers are ask­ing for more prod­ucts at the top end – and al­most at the same time as we were plot­ting new cars like the 8 Se­ries and the X7, we re­alised that when we came to 2018, we would hit a wave of new prod­ucts, in­clud­ing the Z4 and a cou­ple of other cars.

“In fact, six or seven new BMWS will be rolled out in the next yearand-a-half or so. I’ve been with this com­pany a while and we’ve done a lot of prod­uct in the past, but I would say that we’ve never done so many new cars for one par­tic­u­lar brand in such a short pe­riod of time.”

With such a rich ar­ray of new mod­els un­der de­vel­op­ment, the com­pany reck­oned that this was “an op­por­tu­nity, be­cause if you roll out six cars in one-and-a-half years, you can pretty much trans­form the brand,” says van Hooy­donk. “We also felt that it was the right time be­cause we felt quite happy with the de­sign up un­til now. But you have to keep mov­ing. You don’t want to be­come a sit­ting duck.”

Not al­low­ing BMW to be­come a sit­ting duck is also a mo­ti­va­tion for BMW’S prod­uct man­age­ment and brand chief Hilde­gard Wort­mann. “I think it’s im­por­tant when you have such a strong brand that you keep it fresh all the time, that you keep it orig­i­nal, that you keep it on the edge,” she says. To that end, Wort­mann, a brand ex­pert with ex­pe­ri­ence at both Unilever and Calvin Klein be­fore she joined BMW in 1998, has over­seen a three­p­ronged re­ori­en­ta­tion of the way BMW presents it­self to the world. And with her con­tri­bu­tion to the prod­uct de­vel­op­ment process, she has been in­volved with the sub­stance of the new cars too.

Those three prongs are the main­stream BMWS, the i-brand cars and the newly des­ig­nated lux­ury Bay­erische Mo­toren Werke mod­els. BMW en­thu­si­asts might no­tice that peo­ple now ap­pear in some of the com­pany’s ads, and that the tone of its mes­sag­ing, which cuts across so­cial me­dia as well, al­ters ac­cord­ing to the model. Wort­mann cites “the lat­est [ad­ver­tis­ing] cam­paign on the 1 Se­ries – it’s com­pletely dig­i­tal, deal­ing with the topic of drones, do­ing com­pe­ti­tions and in­stal­la­tions with drones. This fresh­en­ing up is keep­ing the brand up to date, mak­ing it mod­ern. The chal­lenge is to do dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tions with each and ev­ery car, depend­ing on the dif­fer­ent seg­ments, and the dif­fer­ent tar­get au­di­ences.” With the i mod­els, she adds, “you’ll see a much fresher ap­proach with more dig­i­tal, more mul­ti­me­dia and more emo­tion. It’s a strong state­ment of at­ti­tude.” BMW’S lux­ury mod­els – the ex­ist­ing 7 Se­ries, and the forth­com­ing X7 and 8 Se­ries Coupé – will be rep­re­sented us­ing a strat­egy bor­rowed from the fash­ion world, “by go­ing back to our roots and us­ing the full name, like Alexan­der Mcqueen”, says Wort­mann. The Mcqueen fash­ion house and oth­ers spell the brand’s name out for its high­end lines, and use ini­tials for the more af­ford­able prod­ucts. The vis­ual char­ac­ter of the cars them­selves will change too, says van Hooy­donk, for “this new chap­ter in our form lan­guage. Pretty quickly, we

came to the con­clu­sion that it should be some­thing that is cleaner, where we are try­ing to achieve a lot with fewer el­e­ments, and fewer lines.

“But the lines that we do have should be crisper, sharper and more pre­cise. We be­lieve that this will fit very well with th­ese new top-end prod­ucts. When you re­duce the form lan­guage, the de­tails mat­ter more. In the lux­ury seg­ment, where of­ten more is more, we are of­fer­ing lux­ury in a very mod­ern way.”

The new de­sign lan­guage isn’t only about sim­pli­fy­ing and re­fin­ing shapes. BMW is keen to de­velop more in­di­vid­ual iden­ti­ties within its range, as those strik­ing new grilles in­di­cate. “In the next ve­hi­cle gen­er­a­tion, we want to sep­a­rate each and ev­ery model. They have very dif­fer­ent types of com­peti­tors that could be from to­tally dif­fer­ent brands. The in­dus­try has changed in that sense,” says van Hooy­donk.

“For the lux­ury cars, it is al­ways a good idea to sep­a­rate them from the next car up – that’s some­thing that we will do. If you look at the 8 Se­ries, I be­lieve it de­serves that name. Like the pre­vi­ous 8 Se­ries, it’s a car that’s not a saloon-de­rived coupé.”

With a new de­sign lan­guage un­der de­vel­op­ment and that wave of new mod­els for 2018, van Hooy­donk and the mar­ket­ing team reck­oned that BMW should also re­assess its cor­po­rate iden­tity. That process was led by Wort­mann, who says: “You saw the first out­ing at the Frank­furt mo­tor show with the fully writ­ten ‘Bay­erische Mo­toren Werke’ in the black and white logo, at least in print. We feel that it’s more el­e­gant and so­phis­ti­cated. It fits with what we are try­ing to do with the form lan­guage.”

As might be ex­pected, the de­sign team has adopted a new in­te­rior ap­proach too, “for the same rea­sons – there too we could clean up”, says van Hooy­donk. “Cars will be­come more in­tel­li­gent and that’s be­gin­ning to hap­pen now. It means you have to tell the car less what it needs to do and what you want from it. So you will need fewer but­tons.

“The but­tons that we do still have are neatly grouped in a cou­ple of islands in the cen­tre con­sole or in the dash­board in the Z4, 8 Se­ries and X7 con­cept cars. The cock­pits are go­ing to go to­wards dig­i­tal and al­ways in­clude a head-up dis­play, and the way you op­er­ate the ve­hi­cle will then be­come a mix between touch, some hard keys and voice con­trol.”

That’s for the near-to-medium term, dur­ing which “the in­tel­li­gence of ve­hi­cles will grow”, says van Hooy­donk. “Be­fore long, cars will be self-learn­ing and, ul­ti­mately, will be able to drive au­tonomously. That opens up other pos­si­bil­i­ties be­cause you can sit peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways in the car. We can ex­pect to see a lot more de­vel­op­ment in the in­te­rior of cars in the next cou­ple of years. With th­ese con­cept cars, we’re also show­ing with the in­te­rior that when you re­duce, it ac­tu­ally can be more lux­u­ri­ous and there is more space for ex­clu­sive ma­te­ri­als.”

In 2018, then, we can ex­pect this vis­ual rev­o­lu­tion to take off with some force. As Wort­mann and van Hooy­donk ex­plain, th­ese changes have been fired by both de­sign and mar­ket­ing. “If it pulls the brand a lit­tle bit fur­ther up­mar­ket, that’s good,” reck­ons van Hooy­donk.

Given the scope of this shift for BMW, the re­sults could gen­er­ate use­fully more than that too.

We will be of­fer­ing lux­ury in a very mod­ern way

Yacht-themed M760i show­cases per­son­al­i­sa­tion our brand fresh” Wort­mann: “We need to keep

stripped-down look X7’s in­te­rior high­lights the Pro­duc­tion Z4 will be part of a mas­sive roll-out of new cars

Van Hooy­donk: “Be­fore long, cars will be self-learn­ing”

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