Domagoj Dukec has what is arguably one of the most binary jobs in all of the auto industry.
No, it has nothing to do with the ones and zeros of digitalization per se.
Rather, Dukec, who is with BMW Group, a vice president within Group Design, heads up two studios: BMW i and BMW M.
That’s right: the environmental cars and the performance cars.
Arguably, polar opposites within the BMW brand sphere. The BMW core products—the traditional 3-, 5-, 7-, etc.—are under the direction of Jozef Kabañ, who joined BMW in early 2017 from Volkswagen Group. (And both, of course, work for Adrian van Hooydonk.)
Dukec is dealing with the future in i and the company’s heritage with M. Yes, he acknowledges, in both cases he is dealing with what are niche products within the wider organization—sub-brands that have sales on the order of about 40,000 per annum each—but he thinks that they’re both definitional for BMW both in terms of the present customers and those that the company hopes to have in years to come.
That said, he recognizes that the decisions that he and his colleagues take have serious consequences: “BMW is quite a small company. If one project fails, that can affect many people.”
All of which is to say that as he is working on the environmental cars, as he is advancing the performance models, he is fully conscious of the facts that on the one hand there really must be some gambles—“If you go for new horizons, you have to take some risks”—but on the other they need to maintain what the company stands for—“When you go really innovative, into the future, and challenge how far you can go with the brand, you need to maintain the heritage or you will lose the balance of the brand, lose the brand image.” Which would undoubtedly not have positive consequences for anyone involved.
Yet there is an acknowledgment that change is necessary to maintain relevance.
In one sense Dukec, 42, who was born in Frankfurt (“My parents are from Croatia”), is a product of BMW’s recognition of change. He is a graduate in Transportation Design from the University of Pforzheim. He started at Volkswagen Group in Spain for three years, then spent nine years at PSA Peugeot Citroën.
“VW Group and PSA have front-wheel drive platforms,” he says, explaining that when van Hooydonk asked him to join the company (“Car design is a very small world—we all know each other and talk to each other at shows.”), an objective was to design for front-drive vehicles, which was absolutely un-BMW-like when Dukec joined the company as creative director for Exterior Design in 2010. “Initially, it was a very challenging thing,” he says, undoubtedly with understatement.
But one could make the case that a front-drive BMW is nothing compared with the i3 . . .
“The i3 was the first, the initial product, which was to give the i brand a face. It was designed to be different. If we were just to show a 3-Series electrified, you’d think, ‘Why is this an i?’ The i3 did everything differently. It was designed to be a small car for megacities. We tried to make that car completely contrary to what is normal for BMW. That is its purpose. And it didn’t fade.”
The all-electric i3 made its debut at the 2013 IAA in Frankfurt, as did the hybrid sports car, the i8. (Of the latter, Dukec says, “There are lots of sports cars. But we wanted to express something that would be iconic for a new era.”)
While the two current i models are carbon-fiber intensive, this seems to have more of an effect on the engineering of the vehicles than the design. For example, he points out that the material allowed them to create the i3 without B-pillars. “For a designer, you have a certain package, so whether it is steel or carbon fiber, you have different conditions that you have to deal with,” and he cites such things as functionality and expression. The vehicle must do things, and the vehicle must express things. When it comes to something like the low-volume i8, which has what can be described as exceedingly baroque forms that are not readily achievable in conventional production, Dukec acknowledges that they knew this wouldn’t be mass production so they were able to use plastic materials that wouldn’t lend themselves to a volume of a million units.
(Another example from the other side of his remit: the M3 CS, a special edition model, that uses carbon-fiber reinforced plastic quite extensively, including the roof, rear diffuser, Gurney flap (spoiler lip), etc. The production is limited to about 1,200 units.)
While the core BMW models have taken on a numeric sequence (3, 5, 7), this is not going to be the case with the i vehicles. “In the future there wouldn’t be a successor to the i3 or the i8—not a classical lineup like the BMW 3-Series or 5-Series,” Dukec says.
Indeed, the next i seems to be the Vision Dynamics, a four-door grand coupe, an electric vehicle that will combine technology with elegance and performance. “It is more of a conventional limousine, but a very emotional limousine,” he says.
“Each i product is not in a parallel universe next to BMW, but is a part of BMW,” he says. And what is BMW in Dukec’s view? “A brand that stands for innovation and new technologies.”
He adds, “If one day there are just electric vehicles, there will still be BMW.”
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