Interview: Adrian van Hooydonk on the BMW X2 and the coming of autonomous pods

Interview: Adrian van Hooydonk on the BMW X2 and the coming of autonomous pods
 

Adrian van Hooydonk and his team have revolutionised design at BMW. Of course, many would argue that it wasn’t going to be a difficult job to improve on Chris Bangle’s designs but, even so, Van Hooydonk has put his own creativity and flair into the BMWs we see today — and he has plenty more to come.

Just moments after the company pulled the cover off its X2 concept, we were fortunate to be offered a few minutes with the man who pens the highly important models that come from the Munich-based outfit. The first question had to be why the X2 was not simply an X1 coupe?

“It is not like the X6 or X4,” he said. “The X2 was an opportunity to further the design language of the brand.”

So the X2 is more than just a new crossover, although it stops short of creating a new niche, something Van Hooydonk admits that BMW has been very successful at in recent years.

“It looks like there are no more niches left, but I don’t know,” he says. “It is part of what we do, though.”

While it might not be a niche product, the X2 heralds a possible new design era for the brand. There are some major changes, many of which will probably never make it from the concept to a production model, but one that seems to have found favour with many is the placement of the BMW badge on the C-pillar. It provides a sense of luxury perhaps.

BMW Concept X2

Do not expect to see elements of the X2’s design in a new model soon though. From the pictures we have seen, BMW’s big seller, the 5 Series, will hardly change at all when it is unveiled, save for a few exterior styling elements from the 7 Series as well as taking significant cues from the seven’s interior.

However, he points out that “people don’t really care if the 5 looks different to the 7 series or not”. This is not an unusual design philosophy; in fact Audi, BMW and Mercedes are all following this strategy.

The fundamentals of design are changing though. Van Hooydonk admits that he and his team are designing for very different vehicle life cycles today. Technology is a major driver of this, but he says that planning for tech is not easy.

“Some computer people are unable to predict what tech will be in five years,” he says, emphasising that predicting the tech that will be in cars is difficult. He says there are certain shapes in design that have to remain, but the designers and engineers do try to build in some future flexibility. Design freedom has been enhanced by the use of modular technology and platforms, with Van Hooydonk advising that the design and engineering teams have to work together closely.

“I have worked for years for a company that understands design,” he says. “The rules are that engineers cannot change design and vice versa. Instead we have comprehensive discussions. Engineers are happy to accept a challenge. They don’t want to say they can’t do it.”

Looking further ahead, does Van Hooydonk want to be designing in a time when we all travel in autonomous pods? “If people are in pods, I want them to be in our pod, so yes,” he says. “I believe these changes will come in the next decade. They’re on our drawing boards now.”

He hastily followed up this revelation by stating: “We still believe in individual mobility. We believe people should have the choice of autonomous driving or driving themselves.”

So we can expect to be driven to work in an autonomous BMW pod in just 10 years’ time — but, fortunately, Van Hooydonk and his team will make sure that we have something that can still claim to offer some of that sheer driving pleasure. – Mark Smyth