What is modern luxury? BMW chief designer explores

In a series of interviews discussing the meaning of modern luxury with leading designers from various industries, Nargess Banks talks to Karim Habib, chief designer at the BMW marque.

NB. 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. How do you see BMW car design responding to the concept of ‘modern luxury’?

KH. We started to actively talk about modern luxury with the latest 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
BMW introduces gesture control for the first time on the new 7 Series


NB. 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.

NB. 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?

KH. 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.


BMW Vision 100 Next concept car
Vision 100 Next concept studies luxury in the context of the driverless car


NB. 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.

Our 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.

Read more about BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce’s Vision 100 Next concept cars here

Marella Rivolta-Zagato, Art Director Zagato, Erik Goplen, Exterior Designer BMW Group DesignworksUSA, and Karim Habib, Head of Design BMW Automobiles, at Zagato in Milan
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