Vellum Venom Vignette: BMW Concepts That Peer(ed) into the Future

BMW

Domagoj Dukec is not your average car designer. As head of BMW design for nearly five years, he is responsible for some of the most radical BMWs to ever make production. (Radical might be putting a positive spin on some … downright challenging designs.) But even yours truly grudgingly admits the design of the current BMW M3 is well-executed.

Too bad “our” opinions as traditional car enthusiasts and/or BMW loyalists don’t matter to Dukec. In an interview back in 2022, he suggested that someone in his role can’t make everyone happy “because BMW was never about pleasing everyone.” As he sees it, his role “as head of design is to always create something which makes a difference.” Perhaps he has accomplished that?

BMW IX
BMW iX BMW

Automakers always give customers new reasons to trade in their old ride for a new, and there are only so many times you can retread that same tire. That truth is magnified by Dukec’s assertion that the BMW iX is not a “beauty from first sight, but sales are 40 percent over what we estimated.”

Faint praise indeed. Sales and good design do not go hand-in-hand: The Fisker Karma was a beautiful dud, and the Tesla Cybertruck won’t be leaving any time soon. We may never know if sweetheart lease deals at BMW dealers, government EV incentives, or any factor outside the control of a design studio played a part in the sales success of the awkward iX; but I come not to bury Dukec’s designs. Instead let’s consider praise for a brand that flourished, on occasion, with boundary-breaking design. Perhaps we can see if the future can be brighter, as told by Dukec’s Instagram channel.

 

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A post shared by Domagoj Dukec (@domagoj.dukec)


Firstly, a round of applause for an upper-level design manager who isn’t afraid to post such interesting content on a regular basis on social media.

Dukec’s mastery of the medium apparently extends beyond the vellum and 3D designs of a studio, as he can place vehicles like the 1972 BMW turbo, a car with a vision that logically and clearly turned into the 1978 BMW M1, into proper perspective. While later concept cars may not be as directly responsible for icons that made production, it’s clear that BMW likes to use concept cars to bounce ideas off people. And those concepts do play fortuneteller, on occasion.

 

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A post shared by Domagoj Dukec (@domagoj.dukec)


Then we have the AVT concept from 1981, which flirted with the idea of having brand DNA plastered onto an aerodynamic future of sleek lines and plastic faces.  Too bad this was just a design study made of clay, and its DNA didn’t have a direct impact on future products: BMW didn’t love the concept of aerodynamics nearly as much as Audi, as demonstrated by its 5000 (1982), or even as much as downmarket Ford—see the Sierra (1982). But, again, this isn’t under the control of a design team: Multiple departments within a corporation, concerns along a supply chain, restrictions at the retailing level, and governmental regulations all take their toll on a designer’s initial vision of a vehicle.

I bet there are multiple reasons why even the much beloved BMW E30 took so long (1989) to receive the sleek, aerodynamic plastic bumpers its German, American, and Japanese competitors had received years before. Sleekness to the extreme is great, but maybe the AVT concept isn’t the best example of a BMW that shows us our future.

 

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A post shared by Domagoj Dukec (@domagoj.dukec)

Now we’re cookin’ with gas! The 1989 E1 Spider is a design study that clearly foretold a future with long-nosed BMW 8 Series (E31) and the rounded yet taut surface tension found on the hood of an E39 BMW 5 Series. Sure, it lacks things like a roof and wheels, but the silhouette is clean, elegant, and minimalist in its expressive contouring. It’s not unlike BMW products since the first E36 3 Series of 1990 to the last E46 3 Series in 2005: That’s a good tie-in for any concept car … even if it looks like a speed boat, not a car.

 

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A post shared by Domagoj Dukec (@domagoj.dukec)

These early renderings of the 1996 BMW Z3 show a decadent sports car with the classic long hood/short deck proportioning of a vehicle from the era of British sports cars, Italian touring cars, and American land yachts. It’s pretty amazing to see the production Z3 look so true to the concept, as BMW clearly spent a lot of cash to re-work the E36 platform into something worthy of a classic sports car. While it didn’t have to put in all that effort for such a long hood (BMW’s historical proportioning rarely chooses style over snub-nosed functionality), thank goodness it did just that.

 

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A post shared by Domagoj Dukec (@domagoj.dukec)

Even the Chris Bangle days of BMW design, an era generally reviled by purists, had concepts that were clear winners. The Z9 Gran Turismo influenced the 2003 BMW 6 Series (E63) right down to the elongated grilles and a Kammback rear that turned into one of the prettiest implementations of Chris Bangle’s infamous Bangle Butt.

 

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A post shared by Domagoj Dukec (@domagoj.dukec)

Now here’s one we haven’t seen before: The I16 a concept that was apparently ready for production, and Dukec suggests it was intended to be the successor to the hybrid BMW i8 supercar. It reportedly used the i8’s underpinnings to speed up production, and Dukec suggests “you will find a few cues” of the i8. He’s right, as I spy the i8’s long hood and scooped C-pillar right off the bat.

BMW wisely left the I16 as a concept, as a restyled i8 isn’t what the market needs at this point. It needs something radical under the skin, on par with the Tesla Plaid or the 1111-horsepower Lucid Air. If the I16 had reached the world as yet another hybrid, it would have become a showroom paperweight just like its predecessor.

 

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A post shared by Domagoj Dukec (@domagoj.dukec)

Now we get our fortune told by someone who knows our future better than we do. The BMW Neue Klasse (New Class) Concept may be little more than a dream car at this point, but even the name harkens back to an inflection point in the company’s history.

The tapered, fade-away front fascia and ample greenhouse are pure Neue Klasse BMW from 1962. The door glass’ lowered DLO would look wonderful in a production BMW sedan. There’s a tall rear deck as per modern cargo and aerodynamic needs, but all the hallmarks of a modern BMW (aggressive kidney grilles, radical lights, aggressive body side surfaces) are so darn logical it would be an absolute tragedy if this weren’t a lightly disguised production car.

Don’t take my word for it: Have a look at more photos of the Neue Klasse sedan and arrive at your own conclusion. The “New” Neue Klasse concept might be Dukec’s best work yet. It illustrates his need to break from BMW’s staid styling norms—but in a way that more enthusiasts can appreciate. Add in the fact that this concept is intended to have an EV powertrain, and Dukec is clearly giving new generations of motorists ample reason to fall in love with the BMW spinning commutator propeller brand.  So maybe Dukec was wrong when he said:

I can’t, and I don’t want to please everyone, because BMW was never about pleasing everyone. Actually, my duty as head of design is to always create something which makes a difference.

You will absolutely please everyone if this Neue Klasse makes production at the price of a Tesla Model 3, but with BMW build quality and its rock-solid dealership network. The market is constantly evolving, and a conservative German brand can’t stick to its enthusiast ethos forever. But you need not veer too far in the other direction to appeal to radicals and loyalists alike. And that’s quite a wonderful thing to behold.

 

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Comments

    What is that Mercury at the top of the article? (It kind of looks like one in the back.)

    Seriously BMW styling is just terrible currently. Many of these concepts are far better than what we are getting today.

    The G80 M3/M4 as of late isn’t very desirable to me personally. It looks like it is targeting a different audience than the E46 did.
    I’m not sure if they are selling more or less than before (probably more), but one would think the buyer with $100,000 would be more discernible.
    It look like the G80 series is targeting the Honda Civic Type R crowd.
    I guess all that matters is if it sells well, but their image is changing in my eyes.

    The Neue Klasse is a perfect call back to the cars that made BMW the brand it is today. Here’s hoping it makes it to production with minimal changes. This is a design that will draw huge attention on the street for its clean and elegant appearance. I look forward to new 5- and 7-series cars that incorporate this design ethic as well.

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