What is luxury? BMW chief designer discusses

The concept of luxury has evolved to include a much more complex set of values. Time, authenticity, legacy, access, resource, journey, skills and memory – these are just some of the concepts joining the more classic terms associated with luxury. And going forward, when the car becomes essentially a high-tech gadget in the age of autonomous driving, what will define true luxury?

In the third of our interviews with some of the leading creatives, Karim Habib, BMW chief designer offers his thoughts on the subject.

Karim Habib and his design teamDesign Talks: How do you see BMW car design responding to the concept of ‘modern luxury’?

Karim Habib: We started to actively talk about modern luxury with the 7 Series. You see in the past we never fully embraced the term because we felt it meant things like wood, leather, weight… it almost didn’t feel like it could work with us being a driver’s car. Now we understand how modern luxury can fit with our brand values.

It can come through innovation – providing technology that is new, that improves your life. We are prepared to invest in innovation, like we did with gesture control, a unique and new technology as first seen on in the 7 Series, which may be introduced across our range.

BMW 7 Series, introducing Gesture Control for the first time on this model

DT: You’ve always been innovative with the use of materials especially with the BMW i electric cars and in particular inside the i3 where traditional luxury has been brilliantly challenged to highlight the sustainable aspect of the car.

KH. Yes there is definitely the question of materials. If luxury is to remain relevant, and stay with current values, then do we continue to work with say leather? Do we want to keep this as a symbol of luxury? This is a super difficult area for everyone as we, even I, get excited when I look inside an old classic car with its battered leather… Yet, this is something that we need to address.

DT: With ‘active driving’ being one of BMW’s main brand values, how will the company respond to the near future autonomous car when driving becomes less of a focus?

Marella Rivolta-Zagato, Art Director Zagato, Erik Goplen, Exterior Designer BMW Group DesignworksUSA, and Karim Habib, Head of Design BMW Automobiles, at Zagato in MilanKH. The idea of BMW as a driver’s car should remain the focus, but it is interesting what form and shape this will take in the future. Our brand slogan The Ultimate Driving Machine is Freude am Fahren in German, which roughly translates to the joy of driving. It has much more warmth, and is really about the emotion of the driver.

DT: How do you translate this in terms of design?

KH: For us it is a question of what you do with the time you have when the car is in autonomous driving mode. We see this as a huge opportunity to design this time through choreographing the information you receive. There is a great deal of information being given to the driver so we will try to focus the right information at the correct time. And direct how you see it when you’re not driving.

BMW 7 Series exteriorOur responsibility is to use this non-driving time for offering well-being experience, which still needs to be designed through the type of interface, seat comfort, ambient lighting and so on. So in the age of autonomous driving, we will focus our energy on not making you a lesser driver, but a better driver whilst still keeping the driver as our focus.

Nargess Banks

Read our previous interview on the subject of modern luxury and car design with Rolls-Royce design director Giles Taylor, Bentley design director Stefan Sielaff, Jaguar’s creative lead Ian Callum, and Mecedes-Benz’s Gorden Wagener here.

Read our previous reports on BMW design here.

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