Drew Smith: ethnographer, strategist and host of Rising Minds

Quick musings: BMW’s Open and Shutlines


Volkswagen-Golf_2004_1600x1200_wallpaper_17As any automotive designer will tell you, drawing shutlines on a car is black art unto itself. Get them right and you can hinge an marketing campaign on them or, indeed, an entire iconic design, like the VW Golf and it’s C Pillar. Get them wrong and you’ll have pedants like me gibbering like a junky as we try to right the wrongs in our head (I almost had an accident the other day while pondering a VZ Holden Commodore’s rear door…).

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Graphic composition of panel gaps aside, it’s been generally accepted that the tighter the gap, the higher quality the vehicle (thus Lexus’ famed Ball Bearing campaign) and the better the aerodynamic performance (Series 1 Range Rovers, which have gaps so voluminous as to be able to accommodate whole fingers, have always provided an amusing counterpoint to this fact…)

BMW’s new concept, the Vision Efficient Dynamics, therefore, has me in a bit of a quandary.


Using a development of the form language first seen on the epic M1 Homage concept, the designers have drawn a shape that is meant to represent the latest research in vehicle aerodynamics and according to Adrian van Hooydonk, BMW’s chief designer, the new layered surface language has allowed his team to design excellent aerodynamic performance into the surfaces themselves without the need to resort to additive elements. So far, so traditional design marketing speak and to look at the car, with it’s artfully integrated rear spoilers, venturis and intakes, so believable.

There’s only one problem: if fine shut lines be the spice of aerodynamic life, then why on earth does the hood appear to have the panel fit of the aforementioned Range Rovers?


BMW-EfficientDynamics_Concept_2009_1600x1200_wallpaper_2cA lot of it has to do with the outlining of the panel gap in blue, emphasising the line as it runs up the crown of the fender. It’s a treatment we’ve not seen before and I can understand and appreciate the intent to create a continuous graphic detail that runs front to rear, delineating the “inside” and “outside” of the layered surfaces. And it certainly works at the rear of the car, where the C-Pillar/fender interaction has been torn wide open and intersected with the wonderfully extravagant sweep of the tail lamp.

Yet from the front and front 3/4 views, there’s not been the same level of decisiveness in separating the hood and fender, leaving the observer unsure as to whether they’re witnessing a daring break with automotive tradition as BMW teases traditional surface intersections wide open, or a superficial graphic gimmick to add a bit of visual drama.

To my eyes, it makes an already feature packed front end appear overwrought and the elements strangely dissociated. Perhaps this is because one’s attention is drawn to the absence of form (the panel gap), rather than the form itself.

Of course, the proof will be in the seeing at Frankfurt where I suspect some crafty detail resolution of the panel edges will make the sense of it all. But until then, I’ll be gibbering quietly to myself in the corner.

Bonus video of Mr. AvH admiring his work below:

Category: Car, Concept, Design, Eco, Frankfurt, Motor Shows, Premium

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6 Responses

  1. Brian Driggs says:

    You’re preparing to attend the Frankfurt show, correct? Could you investigate this model in closer detail when you’re there? Traditional design theory aside, there are a lot of bold decisions made with this concept and I think it would make for some interesting discussion.

    Personally, I haven’t been to the Frankfurt show since 1991 (still have a goodie bag full of brochures and whatnot). I’m really quite jealous!

    I can see how this concept might appear a little busy from some angles, but I really think it’s one of the sharpest, most forward-thinking designs to be brought to light in some time. (Certainly better than that Z4-looking thing with the fabric skin!) I am in love with this design from front to back.

    Particularly interesting to me are the various ways they’re making use of airflow. Traditionally, cars are designed to slip through the wind, almost creating their own little pocket in which to travel. This design appears to mingle WITH the wind.

    (I assume all this is functional, if BMW of all people says they are showcasing their understanding of aerodynamics.)

    Consider the heat extraction duct taking up so much real estate on the hood. The transition into the windscreen is smooth, reducing pressure levels to affect actual heat extraction from the engine bay. Afterthought extractors often act more like cowl induction systems.

    I also like the lateral channels from front to rear. Larger ducts in the front fascia appear to channel airflow *through* the car to cool the front brakes, but then there is a beautifully thought out extractor just aft of the front wheel wells too! The path is a straight shot to cooling ducts for the rear on top of that. To then see that path end at the rear of the car in an effort to reduce drag is just brilliant to me.

    This is the sort of thing that gets me excited. Future cars that actually LOOK like FUTURE cars. So many of the concepts lately come across as gently melted and stretched versions of existing models. YAWN.

    Anyway, longer comment, but it’s not every day I come across a concept that stands out this much. Plus, your thoughts on design are always top shelf, so I knew you’d have something solid to read. Appreciate that.

  2. David says:

    I’m not certain that shut lines running in car-line influence aerodynamic performance as much as things like rear airflow separation edges, flush underbodies, ground clearance, the overall section (area in cm2) in the X-axis, and the surface treatments around the A-pillar and the front fender. And anyway it’s a concept with big wheels and a glowing grill. Tangential thought: When do I get to unabashedly fawn over my creation in a youtube video?

  3. admin says:

    Hi Brian,

    Yeas, I am intending to be at the show and am waiting with baited breath to get up close and personal with the car.

    You’re certainly bang on the money when you talk about this being a proper forward looking concept as opposed to the mind-numbing production previews we are increasingly lumped with these days.

    When I was a kid, I had a 1/18 scale Ferrari F40 (it was my first serious die-cast model) and I used to hold it in front of a fan and imagine how the air must be flowing over it, picturing it as it swirled though NACA ducts and zipped through venturis. I must admit to wanting to do the same thing with this car. It’s captured my imagination in a way that it seems only BMW concepts can these days (I’m actually totally besotted with the GINA Light for the paradigm shift it represents…)

    Anyway, if there’s anything in particular you want me to check out in Frankfurt, let me know.

    Cheers for the comment,


  4. admin says:

    Hi Dave,

    I think we’re on the same page here. If car-line shut lines have little significant impact on overall aerodynamic performance, then why highlight them? It just looks a bit silly to my eyes when there’s already so much drama in the thing (absurd glowing grill included).

    And yes, you’re right, it’s just a concept. I’ll shut up now, but will keep wishing for the depth of thought that I *imagine* there to be behind this thing.

    The fawning is really quite remarkable isn’t it?

    See you soon,


  5. Brian Driggs says:

    Hey. Whether or not it’s all functional, I don’t particularly care. As far as concept cars go, I haven’t seen one on this level in years and I want one.

    We used to see a stunning concept, cheer for it, only to be somewhat let down when it was watered-down for production. Perhaps this was misinterpreted by most manufacturers to mean they should showcase more production-ready designs. If so, they missed the boat, as I think the industry needs more excitement these days. Excitement which can be generated by showing unique new concepts and then bringing those to market almost intact.

    Have fun at Frankfurt, Drew.

  6. Massimo says:

    yes it looks fast…and..
    yes it looks striking…and…
    yes it looks aggressive…and…
    yes it looks flashy….and…
    yes it looks a good concept…and YET it’s

    NOT beauty…
    what is the matter with car design…
    Beauty is becoming an option…

    …i’ll wait and see…before comment more…

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