BMW’s Head of Design recently gave a few of his thoughts about the brand and the future of car design, the 44 year old Canadian studied mechanical engineering at university before heading over to Switzerland to study at the Art Center College for Design. Not finished with studying, Habib then set off for the sunny hills of California to finish his course at the college’s North American institute where he was picked out by a visiting professor, Chris Bangle, who quickly secured a job for Habib convinced the kid had an automotive design future.After a series of jobs in BMW’s interior and exterior design departments Habib fulfilled Bangles prophecy by becoming the company’s head of design in 2011. He penned the restyled 7 Series and most recentl the 2 Series convertible. This interview extract from a recent Bloomberg interview gives an insight into his philosophy.
“BMWs are about motion — you don’t drive a BMW because you have to,” Habib said. “When I design, I am always working to honor that thought.”
Karim Habib on the 2 series.
The convertible is a derivative of the coupe. There is a difference to it from the 1 series, although there are quite a few parts that are the same. It’s more about the character for this car, though, because it really is the direct lineage from the 2002.
People love that car.
Or even now more and more people are really appreciating the E30 — that very clear original BMW spirit. And that’s what we focused on essentially, trying to show it become a little boxier. We could have made it a more flowing C-pillar like the 4 series, but we purposely tried to make it have corners. When you make a convertible, and that roof is gone, then what makes it then is that special character [of C-pillar design]. One more thing that is typical of the BMW classic roadster convertible: We also tried to make the trunk lid as low as possible. On the other hand, it can’t be too low because you don’t have the roof! So that was the major exercise, trying to find that balance. We did it in the 1-series convertible. And that’s why that car is one of the best-selling convertibles — it has the classic feel of BMW convertibles. With the 2 series we did that and made it one click sportier, one click more precise in the line work. Maybe a little bit edgier, a little bit boxier.
Karim Habib on consumer feedback and market trends
I mean, I am going to say that we don’t design cars for ourselves, but our own beliefs as a company, the values, are what it stands for. But we also start with a process where we look around. We have design groups and a context design group in our department. They actually don’t draw very much but they research. They travel around the world and talk to trend researchers, talk to architects, journalists and social research people, and they usually try and design a world, a context in the future for which we’re designing.
Habib Karim on 18 Century paintings
If you look at paintings — I’m really getting philosophical now. If you look at paintings from the 18th century where women were rounder or had very light skin, that was beautiful. Light skin, big eyes, there are always different things that mean different things to different people, and I just think for cars the long hood has always meant a sort of elegance. That’s maybe part of it. I mean if you think of Ferrari, Ferrari was always that. And those Ferraris to me look really beautiful. But if you look at the i8, we designed that car to balance the proportions very differently from a Ferrari or even a Lamborghini. It’s pretty long. So like the original M1, it’s a bit more balanced. So beauty, to me for cars, [is] a certain balance. A sportiness. And also a humanness. When you look at somebody who looks sportier, maybe they’re better looking than someone who is not. There are a lot of things about cars that have to do with human physiology, even the face. And the rear. We talk about shoulders when we talk about the rear as well.
Habib Karim on future alternative fuel vehicle design?
Well, I think it’s the best time to be a designer. I really do. We would have never done the i brand if the world wasn’t changing. How awesome as a designer to do that? And that isn’t changing. We are using more carbon fiber, we are going to be mixing aluminum, steel, carbon fiber. And we have to work with more aerodynamics in mind. That’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. Even cars on the stand today show how we used aerodynamic restriction to make design features that have made the car better.
Habib Karim on aerodynamic restriction?
To achieve our goal of making something that is fuel efficient, we have to make it aerodynamically as strong as possible. We want it to look also dynamic on the sides, so we push the back glass pretty far forward, because we need a long roof and a pretty long spoiler. And that’s one thing that looks really quite dynamic. The other thing is a detail. What’s really good for a car is to end with an edge. The i8, for example, has this edge in the rear where it’s all going down, because it takes the turbulence and ends it; the turbulence area in the rear becomes much shorter. It creates an edge and goes around it, and the air keeps flowing. And even on the 2 series we have a small edge on the taillamp, which you don’t really see because it’s in glass. We usually like to do that. But this time we said we know we have to do this, so we took that edge all the way down and connected it to the bumper line. And you don’t really see that usually but that actually is something that I really like because in the end it gives the car a much better stance.
Habib Karim on restrictive vehicle safety regulations
I’m an industrial designer, and I live in a world of industrial regulations. Probably an artist would say, “Well you’re just subject to the external factors,” so there are two schools of thought. There’s truth to both. I’m always amazed with the kids on my team. They come up with amazing solutions, and I love that. And it’s part of — sorry for being philosophical again — it’s the amazing thing about mankind. That you take a challenge and you make something happen. It’s a little part of it — it’s just a line of a car — but it’s a pretty amazing development.
Watch BMW’s portrait on Habib Karim