Neue Klasse and designer Adrian van HooydonkNeue Klasse and designer Adrian van Hooydonk


BMW design boss admits he was pleasantly surprised people liked firm’s new look

  • Adrian van Hooydonk speaks exclusively to Car Dealer about BMW’s new designs
  • He explains that while classic elements will remain, lights will feature more in the future
  • And he admits it was a pleasant surprise that his Neuse Klasse went down so well

Time 8:07 am, October 27, 2023

BMW design director Adrian van Hooydonk has admitted the overwhelmingly positive response to the brand’s new design language came as a welcome surprise.

More used to negative comments when it unveils something new, the German car manufacturer’s 59-year-old design director said he wasn’t aiming for controversy with the firm’s ‘Neue Klasse’ concept.

Unveiled earlier this year, the Neue Klasse gives an idea of what BMW’s next generation of vehicles will look like in a world increasingly turning electric.

Surprisingly, for a new look BMW, it went down comparatively well with fans and the industry. Van Hooydonk is more used to a mixed reaction to BMW design having worked under the company’s most controversial designer, Chris Bangle, for years.

‘If it hadn’t been like that, it would have been an unpleasant surprise,’ van Hooydonk told Car Dealer at the Tokyo motor show. 

‘Because we were not looking for controversy. We are looking for a bigger change because we feel the more you push forward now, the longer your design will stay relevant.

‘The world around us is now changing so rapidly, that we felt that it’s better and it is safer now to change a lot, rather than to not change enough. 

‘The risk of not changing enough is bigger than the risk of changing too much.’ 

Neue Klasse rear

Van Hooydonk succeeded Bangle in 2009 and is now in charge of overseeing all design work for BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce. Even the brand’s motorbikes fall under his remit.

The Neue Klasse was one of his biggest jobs, though. It is said to be the design that’s closest to a full production vehicle and will lead the way for a new look for the manufacturer as soon as 2025. 

The trademark design features, such as the front kidney grille and a Hofmeister kink on the side windows, are still apparent, but lights are used more than chrome to distinguish key features.

Van Hooydonk added: ‘When you change the core of your brand, you want to be very careful. You want to be very conscious of what you do. 

‘But again, if you don’t push it, then in five years’ time, you might regret it. So that’s how we came up with [Neue Klasse].

‘It effectively skips a generation. If people squint a little bit they will see BMWs from 1970s, and that’s okay with us.

‘It’s not retro design, we feel it’s modern, but there are hints of our past and we think that’s a good thing. But this is a change that will happen at the core of the BMW brand and it will spread very quickly.’

BMW Neue Klasse overhead

The concept took centre stage at the Tokyo motor show – alongside new versions of the X2 and electric iX2. 

Speaking to Car Dealer at the event, van Hooydonk admitted the automotive landscape was becoming more challenging with the arrival of more competitors, but said it was up to him to ensure BMW stood out.

‘It’s true that the competitive environment is only growing,’ he said. 

‘We are a brand that sells products worldwide, so that too is maybe something that makes it more difficult because the speed of change is different in various parts of the world. 

‘I think we have a very good chance to develop something that is very modern, cutting edge, but at the same time very BMW and very distinct from whatever competitor. 

‘BMW has always been very good at forging their own path and not following any trend or any competitor.’

Adrian van Hooydonk

Van Hooydonk said BMWs of the future will use lights instead of chrome to depict the BMW ‘iconography’. He said you can already see that with illuminated kidney grilles, a feature of the new X2, and available on the i7 and X7.

‘That makes our cars instantly recognisable,’ he added. 

Asked which design he’s most proud of, van Hooydonk said he’d usually answer that question with ‘the next one’, but when pressed he admitted the latest Rolls Royce was a personal favourite.

‘That’s a difficult question,’ he said. ‘I typically say the next one and that’s, you know, my mindset as there’s not a lot of time really to reflect on what you just did. 

‘But I also love the little projects like the 3.0 CSL that we just squeezed out somehow, on an afternoon. 

‘Now I’m very much looking forward to putting the Neue Klasse on the road. And I’m also very proud of what we’ve done with Spectre. So it’s very hard to choose. But I think probably Spectre, in time, will have an historical significance as the first electric Rolls Royce.’

Van Hooydonk said outside of the car industry he admired the design of Apple products, but said he feels they are losing some of their ‘excitement’.

‘They’re always very nice, super clean, very well done but I’m not sure there is enough change from them at the moment,’ he explained. ‘But it seems to be working from them.’

He says he gets more inspiration from travelling around the world, from ‘modern art, architecture and industrial design’.


Van Hooydonk added: ‘I also get inspiration from our own history, which, of course, by now I know quite well. I still love going to our museum and looking and driving our historical products.

‘I love the variety and the complexity of my job – there’s never a boring day, not even a boring hour. 

‘The good thing is the company sees the need for pushing both in engineering and design. So there’s just not enough hours in the day to do it all. But I guess that’s the job.’

James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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