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Interview with BMW Design Director Adrian van Hooydonk

BMW's top designer on energy efficiency, electric cars and his creative approach

by CH Contributor in Design on 01 February 2010

by Tamara Warren

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Adrian van Hooydonk, Director of BMW Group Design, envisions a motoring future shaped by sustainability and performance. Just completing his first year on the job as the head of BMW design (replacing Chris Bangle), van Hooydonk is responsible for the new BMW 5-series and the general direction of the BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce aesthetic.

The Dutch native helmed BMW DesignworksUSA for five years prior to landing Head of BMW Automobile Design, lending marked influence on the form language of BMW 6-Series and 7-Series, the Z9 Concept Car, the BMW Concept CS and the M1 Hommage Study. Cool Hunting recently spoke to van Hooydonk about the philosophy driving BMW's future at the 2010 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Can you explain how green initiatives are impacting your work in BMW design?
From a design point of view, it provides a lot of opportunities. With the new drive trains that are around the corner for urban mobility with electric drive, it would be shame if we didn't take the opportunity to make (the cars) look different and cool. That's what we are about to do. We are working on a project now which will lead to a mega city vehicle, designed for urban areas. We are going to design it in such a way that people will see when they look at the car that the future has started. That’s one of our aims.

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Last year in Frankfurt we showed the Vision Efficient Dynamics car, a car that redefined what a super sports car could look like. It’s very environmentally friendly. From a design point of view it looked very futuristic, very emotional and it looks like it’s going to be fun driving that vehicle. Because the performance of that vehicle is comparable to an M3—very fast very dynamic and I think that’s the key—that we as a car company are going to be able to combine sustainability and performance.

We are on our way to offering people products that they will want to have in which they can look good and feel good with a good conscious, as well. With that we can almost begin to change the world with the automobile and that’s our intention.

Today in Detroit we have a 1-Series that is slightly modified. It’s a full electric car that is a concept now, but we are going to make a limited run of that vehicle—several thousand I believe. It will be offered for lease to real customers. It will give our customers an opportunity to get a firsthand experience of what it’s like to drive an electric car in an everyday situation and it will give our engineers useful feedback to how our customers experience that. But it's all leading up to this entirely new vehicle design that we are still working on.

What are the hallmarks of your approach to design?
When you do an electric car even with a show car you have to be very conscious about the weight; the car has to be extremely light. The lighter you make it the further your range will be. And it has to be very good aerodynamically speaking, because that extends the range of the vehicle. Again, I believe that this idea of lightness has to be expressed in the design. Aerodynamics also doesn’t have to be a hinderance because it can lead to very interesting new design features.

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Those two things we have played with in the concept car we have showed in Frankfurt. Even details like wheel design can have an aerodynamic function. We showed that on this concept car in Detroit. And then last but not least, the vehicle should look clean, because it will be clean from an emissions standpoint. And of course since we are BMW group, it will have to a be premium. It will be a new kind of premium. All of this could lead to a redefinition of what premium is all about.

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