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BMW Has No Intention of Changing Its Controversial Design Style

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2023 BMW XM SUV

Photo: BMW

If you don’t like the look of the 2023 BMW XM or the general direction the German automaker has taken its exterior designs lately, we have some bad news. BMW has no intention of deviating from its commitment to controversial styling, and it thinks the hate it gets is a good thing. Apparently, any reaction is better than no reaction at all.

Australia’s CarSales reports that BMW chairman Oliver Zipse made that point abundantly clear during a roundtable interview recently, claiming the controversy is intentional:

Of course it’s a plan, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. If you want to change design, any step into the future that is perceived as new will be controversial automatically. There’s no such thing as a future oriented design without controversy. That’s the trick: to have controversy and the outcome is ‘I want to have it’ and ‘I like it’, and of course it’s a plan.

This decision is reportedly inspired by former BMW designer Chris Bangle’s infamous E65 7 Series. People didn’t like it at the time, but sales did go up, so why not try the same thing again? And if people hate what they see, at least it gets them talking about it.

I want controversy. If we don’t have controversy [in the early design process], I already know it’s too easy. In the early design if you do not have controversy, that’s the mistake you make. Out of the controversy you get engagement. You get people thinking about it and thinking about alternatives.

We drove this morning through Palm Springs. And if you looked at all the other cars, they all look alike. They’re aerodynamically streamlined, there are not ugly cars any more. They’re not great, but they’re not ugly cars. They look very much alike. If you want to have modern, future-oriented design, you will automatically get controversy and of course we want that.

“That doesn’t mean people won’t buy it and of course we want to start a discussion about ‘what are they doing here? We see a lot of that with the XM. There are a lot of discussions here, but almost everyone loves it.

Personally, I don’t love it, but I’m also no design expert. I’m just a guy who took one automotive design class in college. But someone who also doesn’t love it is Frank Stephenson, a man who took a lot more than one automotive design class in college. You might recognize him as the designer of the original BMW X5, the Ferrari F430, the Maserati MC12, the Fiat 500, the 2007 Fiat 500, and the McLaren P1 (as well as quite a few other McLarens).

When Stephenson released his design analysis, let’s just say he was a bit critical of the XM:

Original BMW X5 Designer ROASTS The BMW XM!!

It should be noted that in a later video about the new 7 Series, Stephenson had more positive things to say, although he was still pretty hard on the front end’s styling. And some people actually do like BMW’s new designs. Jalopnik’s own Steve DaSilva even wrote a defense of the new 7 Series, claiming it looks great. Steve’s opinion isn’t universally shared here at Jalopnik HQ, but he’s not completely alone.

According to Zipse, though, the fact that any of us are complaining just means more sales for BMW. And who knows? Maybe he’s right. After all, controversial designs did work out pretty well for Chris Bangle.

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