Design

Poetry in motion: BMW Concept 8 Series

Licence to thrill: BMW Group Chief Designer Adrian van Hooydonk talks about the BMW Concept 8 Series, the new definition of luxury and the interplay between power and sophistication.

Photos
Benjamin Antony Monn
Words
Jörn Kengelbach

How different will the luxury car of tomorrow look, Mr van Hooydonk?
Adrian van Hooydonk: I’m absolutely convinced that top-of-the-line products need a completely new design language. At BMW, we believe the design of the future will be cleaner and more precise. But that doesn’t mean things should become too austere – they still have to evoke powerful emotions.

What makes the new BMW Concept 8 Series so special for you?
van Hooydonk: The beauty of the study is that the car’s entire design is composed of just two, or at most three, lines. That’s hard to imagine when you’re looking at the two-dimensional drawing, but the full poetry of the form of these clean-cut lines reveals itself in the three-dimensional representation.

So does this mean we’re witnessing a new visual poetry of power and prestige?
van Hooydonk: Absolutely. On the one hand, luxury must exude a sense of durability, as most premium products are objects that people want to have around them for a long time. This means that every little detail counts. In the interior, for instance, we’ve radically reduced the controls by today’s standards down to just a few specific clusters. But luxury must also project a certain naturalness – what might be described as an air of sophistication. In the BMW Concept 8 Series, this impression is created by the large number of positively curved surfaces, which are a typical sports car trait that demonstrates power.

Adrian van Hooydonk is the BMW Group’s Chief Designer. He has been with the company for a quarter of a century, and over the years one thing has become clear to him: there is no such thing as a winning formula for good design. Each new car is a fresh challenge in a process that is as much self-discovery as discovering the automobile all over again.

“What all BMW 8 Series models have in common is a certain sense of the exotic. I can clearly recall the first 8 Series from the 1980s. I was studying design back then. I thought it was almost like a UFO, incredibly modern. And it has remained modern till today, almost like something out of a movie.”

Adrian van Hooydonk

Why exactly is luxury becoming increasingly important in the automotive sector?
van Hooydonk: Customers who buy luxury products lead very busy lives, so to them every free minute is a real luxury. When they pull their car door shut, it might be the first time they’ve been on their own all day. We call this “your time.” In the future, the time spent in your car will become even more personal, making it a very important part of the day. So we have to make this time feel as if it is something akin to a pleasant stop at an oasis.

Wouldn’t customers enjoy even more quality if the development of self-driving cars were expedited?
van Hooydonk: That’s already happening as we speak. However, even after autonomous driving has reached our roads, driving could still be a great pleasure and could actually be relaxing. But so could making phone calls or listening to music. For many of our customers, that’s what real luxury is all about – being able to enjoy this personal time as they see fit. We certainly aren’t blind to the fact that the time is coming when cars will be intelligent enough to drive themselves when required. I just don’t think our customers see this as a problem. As much as they enjoy driving, there will always come a point when they say: I want to do something else now, I’ve got some work to be getting on with. Or after an hour at the wheel on a trip that takes several hours, you might say to yourself: I think it’s about time the car took over the driving so I can watch a movie. There’s nothing wrong with all of this, and that’s precisely what we’re going to make possible in the future.

Time and again, BMW has made forays into the ultra-luxury segment. For example, with the first BMW 8 Series at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1989. What’s so different today?
van Hooydonk: When you look at the past 8 Series models from BMW, you certainly can’t claim that we’re building on a particular design line, either from the 8 Series itself or from the later Z8. But what all BMW 8 Series models have in common is a certain sense of the exotic. I can clearly recall the first 8 Series from the 1980s. I was studying design back then. I thought it was almost like a UFO, incredibly modern. And it has remained modern till today, almost like something out of a movie. Our current 8 Series portfolio also includes the BMW i8 hybrid sports car, but of course that’s a whole other story.

The entire design of the BMW Concept 8 Series comprises at most three lines and it brings together luxury and power in an absolutely novel way.

The entire design of the BMW Concept 8 Series comprises at most three lines and it brings together luxury and power in an absolutely novel way.

For 17 years now, BMW has been a partner of probably the world’s foremost luxury vintage car event, the Concorso d’Eleganza in the parkland of Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como. Is a classic car event the right venue to present the new BMW Concept 8 Series, for the future of high-end design?
van Hooydonk: Oh yes, without a doubt! Even the biggest classic car fan wants us to continue creating new cars, because that’s what generates value. It’s great that we’ve been asked again and again to build studies and show cars and present them here. In the past, these have always been one-offs, which has never been a problem in the top luxury segment, since that’s actually much better in terms of value appreciation. But now, for the first time, we’ve presented a study at the Concorso that will go into production. And the BMW Concept 8 Series is clearly not a tribute to the past, but a statement of intent for the future. We’re in year one of the next 100 years of BMW, and the BMW Concept 8 Series marks the beginning of a new chapter in our design language. We find this setting more appropriate for the presentation than a motor show, where the focus is very often on technology rather than design.

Could another aspect of the future of luxury cars be a return to the traditions of the past, when they were individually manufactured and completely personalised?
van Hooydonk: We can see a very clear shift in that direction. Even today, 20 per cent of the models in the BMW 7 Series are produced by BMW Individual. And the higher you go up the range, the more important the issue of customisation becomes. Taking this further and varying far more than just colours and materials is the next logical step.

How will it feel to be a BMW 8 Series customer?
van Hooydonk: You’ll feel special. Appreciated. I expect it’ll be possible to customise this product to a far higher degree than has been the case with our cars in the past. The 8 Series customer will also probably want to become much more involved and connected with the brand than was previously the case in the luxury segment.

You’ve been working at BMW for 25 years. Have you found a winning formula for good design?
van Hooydonk: That would be too good to be true. But scary as well. Because all you have to do with a formula is apply it. Car design will always have an element of black magic to it. There’s a sort of admixture of intellect and intuition that’s the mark of a good design. First and foremost, though, a design must be true. True to a brand and its history, but also true to the technology the product has to offer. I know that sounds simple, but it soon gets complicated. If something goes fast, then it should look fast. If its handling is precise, the design should also reflect that. But good design should never become overcomplicated. That’s the trick. With the BMW Concept 8 Series we sought to create a sort of gentleman’s racer – in other words, something that’s not provocative or aggressive, but simply to the point. No louder than you would want to be yourself. In a word, sophisticated.

11/02/2017