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Chris Bangle was one of the few modern car designers who nearly reached household-name status—and not always because people loved his work. As head of BMW design from 1992 to 2009, he oversaw a transformation of the brand’s styling from boxy and conservative to radical and forward thinking. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Now Bangle’s back in the automotive field after a decade out, and he’s got unkind words for his former competitors.

But which ones? Or, maybe, it’s all of them. That’s what I gather from this Automotive News story, which centers on Bangle at the Frankfurt Motor Show, pondering on the state of car design and being coy about the mystery project his firm is working on.

Still boyish at 60, he is at work on a vehicle project about which he will say next to nothing. But there’s a lot he WILL say about the state of vehicle design.

Try this on for size.

After visiting the stand of a former competitor this week he came back dismayed.

“It’s a wonderful stand, it has a wonderful amount of technology they are showing,” said Bangle. “But as a designer I am used to a set of uniqueness and freshness and change. This will turn into a critique of [try to guess] and I really don’t want it to be published like that, but for the life of me I can’t find a new idea.

“I would love to and they have really good designers, but I’ve seen this all before in other places.”

His criticism is not really aimed at this particular company, which is generally perceived to be getting it right these days, design-wise. Rather, it’s aimed at the entire industry.

“Companies like that are getting so good at putting a sheen on what you already know that they’ll convince everybody that it’s new.

Try to guess, indeed! I applaud Bangle for not wanting to stir the pot too much, but I wonder who he was talking about. Perhaps it was Mercedes-Benz, with their jellybean-like EQA electric hatchback concept, or Audi, and their jellybean-like Aicon electric concept?

Or maybe, and this is radical to suggest, it’s everyone? As we pointed out ourselves, all these concepts for new electric autonomous vehicles all tend to look the same: sleek, nondescript, vaguely SUV-like and often with rooms and chairs and video screens inside.

Or, if he was talking more about current production cars, I have a feeling he meant Audi. I don’t base that on anything beyond pure speculation, but while Audi’s cars are very nice their designs haven’t changed dramatically in about a decade. Mercedes has been faring a lot better, and rivals like Cadillac and Alfa Romeo aren’t too shabby either.

Bangle definitely had some interesting hits and misses in his career at BMW. I actually don’t hate his work, or rather the work done by the design teams under his wing, nearly as much as some people do.

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I think the original Z4 was way ahead of its time and has aged surprisingly well, to the point that it’s now rather striking when you see it on the street; I also feel the same way everyone does about his E65 7 Series, which is but that trunk.

Yet on the subject of things to come, I think Bangle’s right in the sense that we’re not seeing a ton of originality with our autonomous and electric concepts. It’s gotten hard to distinguish any sort of brand identity from any of them, and that makes me fearful of a future where the attributes that led us to certain automakers in the first place no longer exist because they no longer matter. If everything is a conference room on wheels, why buy a BMW over an Audi?

So Bangle’s here with some real talk:

His criticism is not really aimed at this particular company, which is generally perceived to be getting it right these days, design-wise. Rather, it’s aimed at the entire industry.

“Companies like that are getting so good at putting a sheen on what you already know that they’ll convince everybody that it’s new.

[...] “If it’s left up to these hyper-conservative, hyper-terrified companies that are so huge, and where everything is resting on a bottom line that could go south at any minute ... well, these are the last people to ask for the courage to go forward into the future. The LAST people.

“They defend their brands like the virtue of Guinevere and they are doing it by putting a chastity belt around the girl and, sorry, that’s not how you make kids. That’s not how you make a future.”

Take some risks, car designers! Especially with electric cars, which offer packaging options that have almost unlimited potential compared to ones beholden to engine placement. Chris Bangle just called you “hyper-terrified.”

You gonna sit here and let Chris Bangle talk shit about you like that?