The bad boys of auto design

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The "rock stars" of auto design are often unknowns outside the industry. But there is an elite group of styling superstars known to auto experts and car designers.

Chris Bangle, design director of Germany's BMW Group, oversees separate teams for BMW, Mini, Rolls-Royce and BMW Motorcycles. His new look for BMW cars caused loyalists to call for his head when introduced in 2001 for the redone 7 Series. Critics hated its rear end. But Wes Brown, analyst at consultant Iceology, credits Mr. Bangle with creating a new unique look for BMW that further differentiates the brand from others who tried to imitate its strong performance positioning. Other admirers credit him with giving the 7, 6, 5 and 3 Series car lines distinctive looks vs. their former strong family resemblances.

Walter deSilva, chief of design and strategy at Volkswagen AG's Audi Brand Group, which includes Seat and Lamborghini brands. His designs revived Alpha Romeo and VW's affordable Seat brand. He also gave Audi its bold new look that is helping reinvigorate the brand.

Peter Horbury, executive director-design at Ford Motor Co. for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury in North America, was design director for Volvo Car Corp. when Ford acquired it in 1999. At Volvo, he created a sleeker design language for the brand known for its boxiness, yet the new look conveys heritage, stability and sportiness. "His designs are very impactful," commented one analyst.

J Mays, group VP-chief creative officer at Ford Motor Co., who worked with Freeman Thomas (see below) on concept cars that led to Volkswagen AG's New Beetle and sibling Audi's sexy TT coupe. His Cobra concept won Auto Week's Best in Show at Detroit's 2004 international auto show.

Freeman Thomas joined Ford Motor Co. June 1 as director of strategic design from DaimlerChrysler's Pacifica Advanced Design Center in California. He co-developed concept cars that led to Volkswagen AG's New Beetle and sibling Audi's TT coupe. He designed Chrysler Group's outrageous Dodge Tomahawk motorcycle concept, of which roughly 20 were produced and sold at a cost of $500,000 each and also the concept car that led to the successful 300 sedan.

Kip Wasenko, director of General Motors Corp.'s Performance Division, is the father of Cadillac's edgy new look. The GM design veteran was lead designer on the luxury brand's 1997 concept Icon and 1999 concept Evoq roadster. Both set the stage for Cadillac' s roaring comeback. He's also the chief designer of the brand's STS sedan.

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