A New Vision For The Future Of Driving

BMW Group vice president of design, Adrian van Hooydonk, presenting the future creative vision for the company

FABIAN KIRCHBAUER BMW AG

The BMW Group is responsible for an impressive portfolio of products. Through Rolls-Royce, BMW and MINI, the company offers cars for very different scenarios - from the ultimate in luxurious travel, to premium performance cars and fun urban run-arounds.

Then there is the i sub-brand, one of the first dedicated teams within a traditional car company to create solely electric production vehicles with a unique visual language. Lately, the company has also been busy exploring the future – the new sustainable, autonomous era through the Vision Next cars. The recent Vision iNext shows the ways in which autonomous driving will change life on-board cars, whilst the upcoming Vision M Next concept demonstrates how technology can enhance driving pleasure.

Behind all this complex creative thinking is Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president BMW Group design. I caught up with the designer to understand his vision for the future of the three brands.

Nargess Banks: The traditional auto world is facing a very big challenge: how to evolve and remain relevant in the new, sustainable age of mobility. Yours is a tough job of navigating this transition for three very different car brands, each with a unique identity rooted in rich history. BMW seems the toughest, for it is a marque with the promise of performance and driving pleasure. How do you take this into the future?

Adrian van Hooydonk: Yes, BMW is rooted in performance and it is about the thrill and the emotion of driving. On the one hand, it is about speed, yet the thrill is also about the vehicle’s direct response to your input. Then there is the technology that works well and the design which speaks on an emotional level. So, BMW is a combination of something that is highly emotional but delivers on a rational level. This can be motorized in any possible way. The thrill of speed and responsiveness can be had with electric driving, perhaps even more since the cars are nimble, the steering is lighter and more direct.

NB: The electric i3 and i8 have a very strong visual identity. Do you see the electric drive opening-up great possibilities for design?

AvH: Absolutely. Since the electric car layout is so different you open-up a new chapter in design. Some of these brands are over 100 years old, so maybe this is just what we need as designers. Yet, it takes effort to re-invent and transform a brand.

NB: Are the mainstream BMW products learning from the progressive visual language of the i cars?

AvH: Our latest cars show a new design language that is cleaner and simpler. This was an idea that started with the i3 and i8, with designs that have very few lines, to look cleaner and express the zero-emission. This has naturally transformed the look and feel of our new models. The i started as a sub-brand, but it is now a very integral part of what we do. We want the i cars to push and stretch the mother brand in terms of technology and design.

NB: How far can you push design with electric cars without losing sight of your brand values?

AvH: We’re at a stage when finding a unique visual language for electric vehicles is no longer necessary. People now understand electric cars and see it as another engine choice. Saying that, the whole advent of electric mobility has been a catalyst for us for design change.

NB: What about Rolls-Royce – a brand with such a history of traditional luxury?

AvH: One day we will electrify this brand too. We haven’t put a date to this as it is not urgent since Rolls-Royce is about silent mobility anyway.

NB: With the Vision Next concept study cars you have been exploring how the three brands could potentially take on technology in the future. Will the level of tech differ according to each brand?

AvH: I don’t see a difference in the technology for the three brands. They will all go electric ultimately so it is about creating vehicle intelligence that would lead to cars being able to drive autonomously. All our cars will have to become intelligent and be connected as they can then enjoy the intelligence of other vehicles.

NB: The MINI Vision Next concept looked at the possibility of shared ownership. How do you see this developing?

AvH: Sharing mobility will happen in urban environments. If you have a customer profile with our company then the car would adjust to your settings seamlessly. There will be a top layer of premium and luxury mobility that one would subscribe to, much like the systems that exist now for sharing private jets.

NB: You mentioned in the past that you see the BMW Group as evolving from being a car company to a technology firm.

AvH: We are transforming into a luxury tech brand because we develop complex technology as it takes tremendous effort to make autonomous drive happen. In the end, the customer is buying a mobility service with a certain accent - and this will have a lot to do with design.

NB: Do you see your team expanding its work to include the design of other elements which support mobility?

AvH: This is one of the things we are exploring now. In a big company likes ours each customer touch-point is taken care of by a separate department. These areas are now merging and the move is rapid. As a creativity tank, our design department will be involved in the thinking behind all sorts of services that we can offer, to include their look and feel.

NB: You're trained as an industrial designer and have worked at the marque's Californian studio Designworks on non-automotive products. Has this impacted on your design approach?

AvH: Yes, I can put myself in a customer’s shoes. I learnt never to start designing from technology or a problem. Instead to start from what the customer has right now, what they would like to have and what they will need in the future.

NB: But how do you envisage the needs and wants of your future customers given much of the data suggests the next generation are less and less likely to be interested in cars and especially car ownership?

AvH: Our design team stays informed of where the world is going towards through Designworks and our personal connections to the design world at large. You see patterns and see things appearing. And although you never know how fast they will play a key role, you can tell what you need to work on next. I always believe if you can imagine something, it will happen.

NB: You’ve been working with MINI Living, an interesting initiative creating living concepts with architects. You have also lately worked with the designer Patricia Urquiola at BMW Welt on another non-car project. And of course there are the art projects. How do these impact on your work?

AvH: They are about a brand looking beyond the actual product. And they are great projects as they help you not drift off into your own bubble of mobility – so to speak. It gives creative input and context on what people are doing in other fields. You need to then bring the vision back to our own products.

NB: Will MINI be making city dwellings?

AvH: It is hard to tell at this stage. The latest Shanghai project is setting up MINI to be more than a mobility brand, to be an urban lifestyle brand and a natural part of people’s lives.

NB: Sustainability is about a bigger picture than a clean engine. You have discussed your excitement at finding materials that speak the language of modern luxury, yet there remains an awful lot of traditional leather and wood in your cars.

AvH: That is true but we are not the only industry struggling with this. When we started the i3 we began assessing what happens after the product’s life. BMW Group are making products that can be 90% recycled. We use a fairly-high percentage of recycled materials in our products too. But I agree there is still a lot to do. My vision is to get to a stage where when you point your telephone to elements in the car, it tells you what material it is, how it is made, where it is made and the whole supply chain story. In the past, we didn’t know the detail of our supply chain. Now we are finding out everything so we can offer complete transparency. This has to be our ethos.

NB: The company has an ever-expanding family. Surely this goes against the concept of sustainability where cars become disposable items?

AvH: That’s a difficult question. Ultimately by that logic the best company will be one that stops business. We cannot do that of course. We try to provide change from within. The approach we’re taking is to produce cars that bring back what has been disconnected and this is what people need and want. I believe this is possible through design. For example, when I presented the i8 in Abu Dhabi the customers liked a sports car but had no idea they wanted a hybrid one as there is no need for electric cars there. But when they saw the i8 they loved it and bought it. Through strong design, creating emotionally attractive and yet sensible and rational products, you can influence people’s behavior in a good way - and maybe make some changes in the world.

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BMW Group vice president of design, Adrian van Hooydonk

BMW Group vice president of design, Adrian van Hooydonk, presenting the future creative vision for the company

FABIAN KIRCHBAUER BMW AG

The BMW Group is responsible for an impressive portfolio of products. Through Rolls-Royce, BMW and MINI, the company offers cars for very different scenarios - from the ultimate in luxurious travel, to premium performance cars and fun urban run-arounds.

Then there is the i sub-brand, one of the first dedicated teams within a traditional car company to create solely electric production vehicles with a unique visual language. Lately, the company has also been busy exploring the future – the new sustainable, autonomous era through the Vision Next cars. The recent Vision iNext shows the ways in which autonomous driving will change life on-board cars, whilst the upcoming Vision M Next concept demonstrates how technology can enhance driving pleasure.

Behind all this complex creative thinking is Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president BMW Group design. I caught up with the designer to understand his vision for the future of the three brands.

MINI, BMW, Rolls-Royce and Motorrad Vision Next 100 concept studies presented the future possibilities for the brands

In 2016 BMW Group created the MINI, BMW, Rolls-Royce and Motorrad Vision Next 100 studies to show the future possibilities for the brands

BMW Group

Nargess Banks: The traditional auto world is facing a very big challenge: how to evolve and remain relevant in the new, sustainable age of mobility. Yours is a tough job of navigating this transition for three very different car brands, each with a unique identity rooted in rich history. BMW seems the toughest, for it is a marque with the promise of performance and driving pleasure. How do you take this into the future?

Adrian van Hooydonk: Yes, BMW is rooted in performance and it is about the thrill and the emotion of driving. On the one hand, it is about speed, yet the thrill is also about the vehicle’s direct response to your input. Then there is the technology that works well and the design which speaks on an emotional level. So, BMW is a combination of something that is highly emotional but delivers on a rational level. This can be motorized in any possible way. The thrill of speed and responsiveness can be had with electric driving, perhaps even more since the cars are nimble, the steering is lighter and more direct.

BMW showed the possibilities of design when working with i8 Roadster

BMW showed the possibilities of design when working with the progressive electric architecture and this latest i8 Roadster hybrid-electric car

BMW Group

NB: The electric i3 and i8 have a very strong visual identity. Do you see the electric drive opening-up great possibilities for design?

AvH: Absolutely. Since the electric car layout is so different you open-up a new chapter in design. Some of these brands are over 100 years old, so maybe this is just what we need as designers. Yet, it takes effort to re-invent and transform a brand.

NB: Are the mainstream BMW products learning from the progressive visual language of the i cars?

AvH: Our latest cars show a new design language that is cleaner and simpler. This was an idea that started with the i3 and i8, with designs that have very few lines, to look cleaner and express the zero-emission. This has naturally transformed the look and feel of our new models. The i started as a sub-brand, but it is now a very integral part of what we do. We want the i cars to push and stretch the mother brand in terms of technology and design.

Artist Thomas Demand has produced a series of photographs on Vision M Next

Artist Thomas Demand has produced a series of photographs which pull back the covers on some early details of the Vision M Next

BMW Group

NB: How far can you push design with electric cars without losing sight of your brand values?

AvH: We’re at a stage when finding a unique visual language for electric vehicles is no longer necessary. People now understand electric cars and see it as another engine choice. Saying that, the whole advent of electric mobility has been a catalyst for us for design change.

NB: What about Rolls-Royce – a brand with such a history of traditional luxury?

AvH: One day we will electrify this brand too. We haven’t put a date to this as it is not urgent since Rolls-Royce is about silent mobility anyway.

NB: With the Vision Next concept study cars you have been exploring how the three brands could potentially take on technology in the future. Will the level of tech differ according to each brand?

AvH: I don’t see a difference in the technology for the three brands. They will all go electric ultimately so it is about creating vehicle intelligence that would lead to cars being able to drive autonomously. All our cars will have to become intelligent and be connected as they can then enjoy the intelligence of other vehicles.

NB: The MINI Vision Next concept looked at the possibility of shared ownership. How do you see this developing?

AvH: Sharing mobility will happen in urban environments. If you have a customer profile with our company then the car would adjust to your settings seamlessly. There will be a top layer of premium and luxury mobility that one would subscribe to, much like the systems that exist now for sharing private jets.

In 2016 Adrian van Hooydonk worked with Lapo Elkann and his Milan studio to create this bespoke BMW i8 Futurism Edition

In 2016 Adrian van Hooydonk worked with Lapo Elkann and his Milan studio to create this bespoke BMW i8 Futurism Edition

BMW Group

NB: You mentioned in the past that you see the BMW Group as evolving from being a car company to a technology firm.

AvH: We are transforming into a luxury tech brand because we develop complex technology as it takes tremendous effort to make autonomous drive happen. In the end, the customer is buying a mobility service with a certain accent - and this will have a lot to do with design.

NB: Do you see your team expanding its work to include the design of other elements which support mobility?

AvH: This is one of the things we are exploring now. In a big company likes ours each customer touch-point is taken care of by a separate department. These areas are now merging and the move is rapid. As a creativity tank, our design department will be involved in the thinking behind all sorts of services that we can offer, to include their look and feel.

The new BMW 7 Series, presented at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show

The new BMW 7 Series, presented at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show

BMW Group

NB: You're trained as an industrial designer and have worked at the marque's Californian studio Designworks on non-automotive products. Has this impacted on your design approach?

AvH: Yes, I can put myself in a customer’s shoes. I learnt never to start designing from technology or a problem. Instead to start from what the customer has right now, what they would like to have and what they will need in the future.

NB: But how do you envisage the needs and wants of your future customers given much of the data suggests the next generation are less and less likely to be interested in cars and especially car ownership?

AvH: Our design team stays informed of where the world is going towards through Designworks and our personal connections to the design world at large. You see patterns and see things appearing. And although you never know how fast they will play a key role, you can tell what you need to work on next. I always believe if you can imagine something, it will happen.

MINI Living explores innovative architectural ideas to small city spaces

MINI Living explores innovative architectural ideas to improve life within small city spaces

BMW Group

NB: You’ve been working with MINI Living, an interesting initiative creating living concepts with architects. You have also lately worked with the designer Patricia Urquiola at BMW Welt on another non-car project. And of course there are the art projects. How do these impact on your work?

AvH: They are about a brand looking beyond the actual product. And they are great projects as they help you not drift off into your own bubble of mobility – so to speak. It gives creative input and context on what people are doing in other fields. You need to then bring the vision back to our own products.

NB: Will MINI be making city dwellings?

AvH: It is hard to tell at this stage. The latest Shanghai project is setting up MINI to be more than a mobility brand, to be an urban lifestyle brand and a natural part of people’s lives.

NB: Sustainability is about a bigger picture than a clean engine. You have discussed your excitement at finding materials that speak the language of modern luxury, yet there remains an awful lot of traditional leather and wood in your cars.

AvH: That is true but we are not the only industry struggling with this. When we started the i3 we began assessing what happens after the product’s life. BMW Group are making products that can be 90% recycled. We use a fairly-high percentage of recycled materials in our products too. But I agree there is still a lot to do. My vision is to get to a stage where when you point your telephone to elements in the car, it tells you what material it is, how it is made, where it is made and the whole supply chain story. In the past, we didn’t know the detail of our supply chain. Now we are finding out everything so we can offer complete transparency. This has to be our ethos.

Thomas Demand's Vision M Next artwork

“The photos are fascinating and tell their own story. They are very close to the BMW Vision Vehicle and yet completely abstract, pure art,” says Adrian Van Hooydonk of Thomas Demand's Vision M Next artwork

BMW Group

NB: The company has an ever-expanding family. Surely this goes against the concept of sustainability where cars become disposable items?

AvH: That’s a difficult question. Ultimately by that logic the best company will be one that stops business. We cannot do that of course. We try to provide change from within. The approach we’re taking is to produce cars that bring back what has been disconnected and this is what people need and want. I believe this is possible through design. For example, when I presented the i8 in Abu Dhabi the customers liked a sports car but had no idea they wanted a hybrid one as there is no need for electric cars there. But when they saw the i8 they loved it and bought it. Through strong design, creating emotionally attractive and yet sensible and rational products, you can influence people’s behavior in a good way - and maybe make some changes in the world.

Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/nargessbanks/2019/06/18/insight-bmw-design-director-adrian-van-hooydonk/

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