The Car of the Future in Seven Steps.

The BMW Group has had a long history of producing many iconic cars, some of which have gone on to define eras in automotive design. This cemented BMW as one of the most well-established premium brands in the world, and one that is rich in its heritage in automotive design.

Drawing from this heritage, the BMW Group consistently endeavours to be a force of pioneering change, not only in engineering the driving dynamics of tomorrow, but also in conceiving innovative and at times, controversial designs that redefines and challenges the status quo.

Arriving at any final design is no accident. Each step and decision in the BMW design process is deliberate and measured – which is essential for the brand’s future-focused orientation. As Domagoj Dukec, Head of BMW Design puts it, “In 2021, we are making design decisions for products that will come into the market in 2024; and those will then remain in the market for seven or eight years, so beyond 2030.”

Manifestly embodying this discipline are the All-New BMW M3 Sedan and All-New BMW M4 Coupé, which combine unequivocally potent performances of ‘M’ with a future-focused and emotionally moving design, first seen in the All-New BMW 430i Coupé M Sport. These standard-bearers for racing-car exhilaration in everyday driving have just been launched in Malaysia, both of them turning up in their most extreme Competition guises.

First, it is a matter of understanding the future vehicle and the context in which it will be driven. Designers have to understand, far in advance, what will be regarded as modern and cutting-edge in tomorrow’s world – and how BMW customers’ needs may have evolved by then.

Designers gain their inspiration from a wide variety of sources – ranging from fashion and architecture, to nature. However, they may also gain inspiration from the BMW advanced team’s top-secret vehicle projects and concept cars.

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The internal competition begins with sketches, where designers initially express their ideas in countless hand-drawn impression.

“My first point of contact with a new model is a blank sheet of paper and a pencil,” said exterior designer, Anders Thøgersen. “In your mind, you have a certain spirit and character that you want to bring to the car. These initial hand-drawn sketches do not answer all the questions, but they serve as an abstract guide to the subsequent design process.”

However, the BMW designers must also comply with requirements for the defined character of the future vehicle, as well as technical conditions such as the wheelbase, trunk volume or safety requirements.

All the available technological innovations need to be included in such a way that future users perceive them as functional, sensible, and visually fascinating at the same time. “A BMW should always tell, at first sight, what you can experience with it,” Thøgersen added.


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A Question of Character: Hand-drawn Sketches

Alongside the sketches, the designers draw their plans on a wall with a 1:1 scale in, what is known as, tape drawings. Here, they stick the proportions of the vehicle onto a base plan using flexible tape. Base plans are a kind of map of the future vehicle with all technical and structural features. In tape drawing, not only the character but the real volume can be recognized with a few striking lines, providing the perfect template for the next steps.

“When you start the tape drawing, you immediately see the car much more clearly in your mind,” Thøgersen explained. “What began as an idea and a concept in the sketches, now gets a concrete meaning.”


Precision: Tape Drawings

At this stage, state-of-the-art digital technologies come to play in the design process. From two-dimensional sketches, computer-aided styling (CAS) designers create a virtual three-dimensional vehicle. Among other things, they also employ the use of Virtual Reality (VR).

Last, but not least, the digital headsets facilitate collaboration between departments. Designers and developers are no longer spatially bound to a model. Instead, they are able to see the model through their VR headsets. Hence, the design process becomes more efficient and also delivers a context – so the new model can be presented in the respective living environment.


Virtual Experts: Digital Models

So far, the car designs have been two-dimensional, but now the form-finding process becomes three-dimensional. The designers, who concluded the selection process successfully, are given the opportunity to work up their designs three-dimensionally on a 1:1 scale. These models are made from clay.

“A clay prototype is essential for working up surfaces, lines, and details perfectly,” said Thøgersen. “A BMW design can be brought to life only in three-dimensional form and original size. It is a thrilling moment for me when you actually see the sketches in front of you as a complete entity – one that you can walk around.”

A clay model consists of a basic frame made of wood and metal that is coated by foam. Only the top layer is clay. The structure is pre-milled on the basis of the CAS data and shaped to perfection by hand. The tools used are blades, spatulas, sponges, and brushes.

Once the clay model is ready, the designers wrap it in special sheeting that imitates the effect of car paintwork. This makes it possible to assess the lines, surfaces, and proportions of a clay model in different light conditions.

It takes approximately one month for a model to achieve the desired level of perfection. Then, it goes forward to the next round in the decision-making process. About two years before the vehicle goes into production, the BMW Board of Management selects the winner from the two remaining car designs.


Shaping: Clay Models

"In 2021, we are making design decisions for products that will come into the market in 2024; and those will then remain in the market for seven or eight years, so beyond 2030."

“A clay prototype is essential for working up surfaces, lines, and details perfectly.”

“When you start the tape drawing, you immediately see the car much more clearly in your mind.”

Interior designers sketch and refine their models at the same time as exterior designers. They also work with clay in this process. In so-called seat boxes, they also make the entire interior come alive – from seats and details, to surfaces and materials.

Also in this process, VR headsets provide support, making it possible to look round a virtual car interior as though the person was sitting in it.

“We aim to create an ambience for our customers that is modern, inviting and functional at the same time,” said interior designer, Eva Günther. “It should be an atmosphere which offers the customer both the joy of driving and a possibility to work or relax.”


Internal View: Drawing the Interior Car Design

The BMW Design has a dedicated team for the detailed car design, as well as for colours and materials. Both on the exterior and in the interior of the vehicle, these fine-tuning experts perfect all the elements down to hundredths of a millimetre. The close coordination among BMW’s car designers, engineers, and production technicians is akin to a dance in perfect synchrony – as it should be when it comes to bringing a car of the future to life, today.

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