Car designers, for the most part are flamboyant in their dress sense, usually decked in tailored suits at most occasions, particularly when interacting with members of the motoring media.
A great deal of them are mostly middle aged, at least the one’s I have interacted with, so it was rather refreshing to see the contrast when I sat down with Calvin Luk, one of BMW’s vehicle exterior designers.
Meeting the 30-year-old Australian born, Hong Kong descendant, he looks rather nondescript in his denim jeans and BMW windbreaker jacket and you would be hard-pressed to spot that he is the man responsible for the exterior design of the latest BMW X3.
As we settle at the table I ask Luk to briefly take me through his design journey that led him to the Bavarian car maker’s design studios.
He tells me his car design knack was inspired by his parent’s E36 3 Series of the 90s and after high school he studied at the University of Technology in Sydney before enrolling at the Art Centre College of Design in Pasadena, California where he majored in Transportation Design. Then in 2008, he started work at the German company’s headquarters as an intern designer and learnt a great deal about exterior design, which lead to his first full exterior design project, the current X1.
However, Luk was quick to mention that the X3 was arguably one of his most enthusiastic projects yet as he wanted to bring an element of sportiness to the model.
“I had this cool idea of using light and fewer surface lines to give the X3 a more dynamic and muscular look. For instance, if you look at the front and rear fenders with their flared design and the wheel arches with their slightly squared design, it gives it a forward leaning charge.”
He says that he has moved the cab rearwards, which accentuates the long bonnet of the vehicle and this was made possible by stretching the wheelbase by 55mm compared with its predecessor.
“We also decreased the glass house, making it narrower, while the rear viewed head-on gives the impression of a squatter vehicle relative to the ground,” he says.
He says that there have been numerous design sketches of the new X3 going back and forth between the design team and members of the board as each and every sketch is scrutinised and only the best chosen.
“The sketching phase is the most creative bit of the design stage and here you can truly use a great deal of flair, but once the best sketch has been chosen, which in itself can take up to 18 months alone, design and functionality need to co-exist. This means every edge of the vehicle can be redone a couple of times in order to achieve the best drag co-efficient.”
Aside from the X1 and X3, Luk was also very instrumental in the facelift of the 1 Series which, to be a frank, looks far better than the pre-facelift.
Another project that he was commissioned to be part of is the new Z4 Concept, which was recently shown at the Frankfurt and Tokyo Motor Shows.
“I have always dreamt of designing a sports car such as the Z4 Concept and it is something truly special as it involved bringing a great deal of passion to this project,” he says.
I quizzed Luk on whether the production Z4 would retain most of the concept’s design elements, but he pointed out that show cars are usually slightly more exaggerated and that concepts are not designed for road purposes, hence most of the design aspects would not particularly work in the real world.
He wouldn’t be drawn into telling me how toned-down the vehicle will be when it goes into production, suffice to say that it will be a vehicle we should look forward to seeing.
Working under the tutelage and auspices of Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW’s chief designer, Luk says Van Hooydonk has been very instrumental in his career as he encouraged him to go to Pasadena to study transportation design.
“Adrian has truly played a pivotal role in my career and he was one of the designers I have also looked up to and now having the privilege to work alongside him is still surreal.”
Asked about Chris Bangle and his designs, some of which came under fire from motoring hacks and the public alike, Luk simply laughs it off before saying that Bangle’s designs were ahead of their time and have actually influenced BMW design of recent years.
Before we depart and go our separate ways, I ask Luk what influences his designs. “Well being Australian with Asian heritage and having studied in California and now living and working in Munich is a lot to take in, so inspiration for me comes from very diverse sources, but being well travelled certainly means that you are able to satisfy, or at the very least come close, to satisfying most markets’ design preferences.” – Lerato Matebese