It’s no secret that BMW’s latest designs haven’t been well received everywhere, and the company has responded to criticism in uncharacteristic, and borderline indignant, ways. There are many cars out there that could be described as visually polarizing, but BMW’s constant defense of its own, while dismissing critics as “boomers” even though many of its customers are in fact boomers, has been a strange and fascinating drama to watch unfold on social media.
In its latest defense, BMW design heads Adrian van Hooydonk and Domagoj Dukec spoke to Top Gear in an attempt to downplay, but also simultaneously welcome, the backlash. To be honest, there’s nothing explicitly wrong with most of what van Hooydonk and Dukec say here. A lot falls into “you can’t please everybody ¯\_(ツ)_/¯” territory.
Honestly, if you were in their position, what else could you really say? Especially when “Yeah, we kind of made a mess of that, didn’t we?” isn’t really an option.
Still, the rationale Dukec gives isn’t especially convincing, as it’s founded on this formless, unspecified desire to “stand out.”
“You can create something beautiful, and we also have cars which are just pretty. But there are some customers that, if you want to reach them, you have to stand out. You have to create something that is not in-line; maybe not like an everyday car or an everyday product, but that’s exactly the reason.”
Sure, standing out seems like a challenge when you build a range of nigh-indistinguishable crossovers of marginally different sizes, then thrust them into a market populated by your competitors’ similarly structured offerings. But you don’t necessarily have to shock or disappoint most of your audience to be remembered, especially when you have a rich heritage of beautiful and high-performing cars that were generally well liked. The heel turn is totally self-prompted and not easy to understand, at least from the outside.
Dukec proceeds to lose me even further with his next comment about the 4 Series in particular, the car that has received the bulk of the scorn:
“Not all our products get the same critics,” Dukec said. “You can see that on something as polarising like the kidneys on the 4 Series, 20 per cent of people are liking it. That fits to the type of customers we are targeting.
This goes back to a percentage breakdown of how BMW sees its customers, classifying them with demographic labels like “elegant creators” and “expressive performers” — you know, real marketing stuff. But in no dimension can I see a 20 percent approval rating as a win. I guess the subtext here is that BMW is looking to court an extremely discerning type of customer who wants to be viewed as edgy and bold and interesting, a person whose confidence is derived from having a humungous schnoz on the front of their luxury sedan. I can’t help but read an air of superiority here too. If you don’t “get it,” you’re just not “elegant” or “expressive” enough to be BMW.
Between all that and the passive insults lobbed at its most passionate fans on Twitter, every time someone at BMW opens their mouth about design these days they seem only to dig themselves deeper. I really hate to be that dude who wistfully remarks on how everything used to be so much better, and I’ve desperately reached for something positive to say about the front-end treatment on the new 4 and 7 Series, or the iX — but I can’t find it.
BMW never really seemed to be a brand concerned with attention before, which is what makes this all so odd. Anyway, it’s apparently very much concerned with that today, and to the credit of the company’s designers, it’s certainly found ways to stand out. Van Hooydonk reflects on the uproar with a favorable spin:
“It’s really fantastic [if you have fans]. It means you have people that not just buy your products, but love what you do. Of course, if they love what you do, the minute you change it, they might have an issue with it.
Remember: No matter what people say, they’re only disappointed in you because they love you. That’s something I think we could all benefit from taking to heart.