The departure of Chris Bangle as BMW’s head of design is an event we’ve been anticipating for some time — not because of any lack of ability on the remarkable American-born designer’s part, but because the great task he set himself has been achieved.
When Bangle arrived from Fiat in the early ‘90s (having been responsible for the Fiat Coupe, a car that had greatly divided critical opinion) there was an expectation that he would immediately radicalise the look of BMW’s cars, which for a generation had been described as “sleek but safe”.
In fact, Bangle took time to get his teeth into the job, first using his rare powers of leadership to assemble a team of young disciples (Bangle briefly trained for the priesthood in his youth), then winning the confidence of the management with his celebrated powers of persuasion, and producing an ever more radical crop of concept cars — in which elements of the BMW model generation that he and his team would subsequently design could clearly be seen.
Starting with a radical 7-series (eye-popping or awkward, depending on your point of view), Bangle went through the complete range of existing BMWs and launched models like the 1-series, X3 and X6 as he went. His new look caused immense controversy among buyers, especially vocal Americans, and also among rival designers, yet Bangle was always generously backed by BMW management and sales never seemed to suffer.