The BMW Neue Klasse Highlights a New Era of Automobiles
As electric cars flow into the mainstream, car designers are freed up to tease new forms and styles and to mine their pasts in new ways. The BMW Neue Klasse is a statement piece for a new era: design language that references classic BMW for its soon-to-be all-electric lineup.
The concept electric car is the single largest investment by the German automaker to reimagine its future. It’s a statement that BMW director of design Adrian van Hooydonk believes will set the tone for the company’s battery-powered trajectory. “If done right, and accepted, the design can lead change,” van Hooydonk said at the vehicle’s unveiling in BMW’s Munich hometown in early September. The company held an event ahead of the IAA Mobility show, an international auto show that featured EVS from multiple carmakers. The BMW group also showed the all-electric Mini and Mini Countryman, which is closer to production and uses much of the same in-car technology.
It’s part of a transition sweeping the car industry that’s thrust car design into the spotlight. “When will the tipping point come that BMW will sell more electric cars than combustion engines?” van Hooydonk said. “The true answer is we don’t know. But we do feel that it’s going to happen within the lifecycle of this vehicle. And if the design can play a role in that we feel that would be a good thing.”
The BMW Neue Klass Reinvents a 1961 Model
The four-door Neue Klasse sedan references one of the most iconic creations in BMW’s history, the 1961 Neue Klasse, a concept that evolved into the BMW 2002. Elements of the new concept design are signature BMW—namely the kidney grille and Hofmeister kink roof pillar.
The Neue Klasse also has new cues and tech integrations. Chrome has been cast aside in favor of an elaborate light package that Van Hooydonk describes as a magic light dashboard. Cameras replace side mirrors. Headrests have slippery edges, lined in amber-hued corduroy. Ambient lighting dots the cabin.
Van Hooydonk was instrumental in BMW’s first foray into electric cars when it introduced the i brands, which BMW designates for electric vehicles. I remember when van Hooydonk introduced the i3 and sporty i8 at a reveal in New York City in 2011.
“It was meant to be a signal. Okay, electrification is coming and if it comes, we know how to deal with it. And we learned a lot from those products. Now we are in a different phase. We know that if we really want to preserve the joy or the fun of driving, then we have to make these changes happen quickly, and it has to happen in the core of our brand, not just on the fringes,” said van Hooydonk.
The BMW Neue Klass Joins Four Existing Electric Models
Fast forward 12 years and BMW now has four fully electric vehicles in its lineup—the i4, the i5, the i7, and the ix. Those cars look more like the modern BMW gas cars on the road. BMW has decided with the Neue Klasse reveal it’s time to switch things up. A swirl of smoke machines, lights, prisms, a digital display, and a symphonic electronic performance by the Grandbrothers—Dusseldorf musicians Erol Sarp and Lukas Vogel—set the tone for BMW’s new aesthetic.
The intention was to challenge the notion of what future means—no cold or concrete surfaces, no Mad Max references. “You won’t find any aggressive dystopian form language on the car because we believe we want to all live in a bright future and we all want to live in fun,” said Kai Langer, head of design for BMW i. Glass that lets in a lot of light, warm, textured materials, and a lemon-yellow interior highlight this sunny side of car design.
“The world is complicated enough. Emotional things, fun, love, all these things. They won’t disappear in the future,” said Langer.