BMW’s move to an oversized vertical grille on many of its models (most notably the 4, M3, and M4 series) has become a polarizing design issue that has been beaten to death among forums and review articles. After reading these forum posts and articles ad nauseam, one thing has become very clear to me: BMW executives have made a larger mistake than the grilles by standing behind their designers instead of admitting they screwed up.
Unless you are living off the grid, you are most likely aware of what has recently transpired with Anheuser-Busch InBev. I am in no way comparing the very serious social issues that have entangled the beer producer with a set of hideous-looking hood ornaments, but the core philosophy of dealing with a mistake applies to all companies; apologize to your customer base, punish the individuals responsible, and work diligently to fix the error.
I firmly believe you don’t have to be an automotive expert to quickly discern the mistake BMW has made with the oversized grilles.
Not only has BMW refused to take this path, but they have actually doubled down on Adrian van Hooydonk (BMW’s Design Director) and Domagoj Dukec (Head of Design) by continuing grille production. Whether it’s due to German bravado or just pure irreverence to their American customer base, BMW has refused to budge and have left mssrs. Hooydonk and Dukec hanging in the wind by a noose. Taking the dangerous road of assuming innovation will always bring criticism, Hooydonk and Dukec have gone on a campaign of damage control by standing behind their abomination…Dukec even stating “So it’s (good design) not about taste, but about gauging what a customer actually desires, or what they could desire in the future.
Sorry Domagoj…I’m not drinking the Kool-Aide on this one.
It’s all about the “benjamins”
As one of the largest luxury automobile companies in the world, I have no doubt that continually creating innovative designs is a challenge. In Dukec’s defense, design is often subjective and not all cars appeal to all people. That’s why there are different brands. That’s why there are 10 different dealerships lined up next to each other on every major interstate. And every brand has made its fair share of mistakes.
The previously most controversial design chapter on BMW’s timeline was the E60 5 series body style produced from 2004-2010. The media skewered Hooydonk’s predecessor Chris Bangle…the American-born design chief responsible for the E60s development. But the difference between the E60 newfangled body design and Hooydonks mammoth grilles has become blatantly obvious. The BMW E60’s media trouncing was sadistic and unwarranted and fell squarely into Dukec’s playbook – a really cool innovative design being shunned by hardcore traditionalists. The BMW E60 went on to be one of the most iconic designs in its history and is still very sought after today on the used car market.
The colossal grille anathema is different. The grilles are not a cool innovation and are not only being shunned by hardcore traditionalists but by everyone who lays eyes on them. BMW has tried to counter this theory by claiming “vehicle sales for these models have increased” so the public must be responding favorably to them.
Thank-you BMW for just admitting it’s all about money. If sales are up then your design is successful, no matter how ugly it is? It’s the pathetic truth that no car magazine wants to report for fear of being shunned by BMW and losing future access to interviews. It’s the pathetic truth that BMW won’t rectify out of arrogance and fear.
A lesson we can teach our children
The disaster adorning the front of the current 4, M3, M4 and iX series vehicles are not the first vertical grilles installed on a BMW, but rather pay homage to earlier models. Oversized vertical grilles were first introduced on the 1933 BMW 303, but were phased out in the 1950’s as the world transitioned away from automobile designs that originated in the early 20th century.
As BMW design progressed through the 1980’s and 90’s, the small vertical grills slowly stretched out into the quintessential kidney-shaped ones. They are simple but elegant, and like the BMW roundel itself identify the brand as a benchmark of elegance and performance.
I firmly believe you don’t have to be an automotive expert to quickly discern the mistake BMW has made with the oversized grilles. I firmly believe you do not need a degree from a fancy university to recognize poor automotive design. But most importantly, I firmly believe that humans were hardwired to make mistakes; this is how we learn.
Admitting to our mistakes makes us stronger and creates respect among our peers and customer base. Instead of embracing poor design, perhaps BMW should explore the potential of increasing long-term profits through humility. Replace the oversized grilles and move on.