Is the BMW Kidney Grille Campaign Going Completely Wrong and Alienating Longtime Fans?

Depending on how entrenched you are in car culture, you may or may not have been a longtime BMW fan. The European automaker has always had a cult following due to great designs, powerful engines, and never-ending customization options in the secondary market. As the automotive market experiences growing pains, are the BMW kidney grilles just another cog in the broken wheel?

But in recent years, the fandom seems to have faltered. Is Domagoj Dukec’s obsession with the kidney grille at fault?

BMW Kidney Grille
BMW Kidney Grille on the M4 Competition Coupé | BMW Group

Dukec is the head of design at BMW and knows better than anyone what the public wants. Yet we get kidney grilles. The brand shifted gears after the 1960s and started focusing on sports cars. According to an article and interview with Dukec by Autoblog, the “Ultimate Driving Machine” slogan first hit the market in 1975. That same year, the BMW 3 Series was released.

The rest is history. People were hooked on the design, the BMW kidney grille, the BMW engines, and the BMW community. That excitement from the 3 Series has carried the BMW brand through generations. The BMW 5 Series, 7 Series, M3, M4, M5, X3, X5 SUVs, and everything in-between.

But while the lineup grew and the fan base expanded, BMW took little risk in changing the design. Of course, modern cars look different from the original BMW designs, but you can always tell a BMW apart. The kidney grilles and the shape of the headlights have modernized but not changed. According to the brand, there have been 13 significant changes to the BMW kidney grille over time.

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However, in recent years, Dukec has gone ahead with 46 years of change all at once. The design of the well-loved BMW is gone. In its place, massive kidney grilles glare at you from the front of the car. The grilles are reminiscent of a beaver if you will. But Dukec stands by his design changes, noting that the brand has evolved.

BMW is big on the joy of driving, at one point even changing the slogan to “Joy is BMW.” That didn’t last long, as the “Ultimate Driving Machine” came back into style. Dukec says the company has shifted from gaining large amounts of drivers to just the drivers who “want” a car. “You have to understand the reason certain customers want a car. We want to address just the ‘I want’ customers,” he told Autoblog. Dukec says the brand wants buyers that want to buy the vehicle. Not the person who lands on a lesser car because the 5 Series is too expensive. The buyer who wants the 3 Series because he wants the 3 Series.

Since joining the company in 2019, the design of the most popular sports cars has changed drastically. While most BMWs from history are aesthetically pleasing, that is no longer the case. The performance-focued M3 and M4 might have a lot of power, but te kidney grilles sure are ugly.

BMW M3 Competition Sedan
BMW M3 Competition Sedan | BMW Group

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By the time the BMW X7 and BMW 7 Series rolled out in 2019, the grille was growing.

“The BMW X7 and the current BMW 7 Series each have twin kidney grilles of a similar design to the 3 Series, including the horizontal bend to the upper edge. However, in both of these models the BMW grille is much larger and significantly more eye-catching – and thus much more present.”

BMW

The Head of BMW design said the BMW 4 Series Coupe from 2020 is meant to make a statement. “The striking vertical kidney grille and the iconic double headlights create a daring and confident identity,” Dukec said. But when did BMW have to resort to such tactics to keep attention on the brand?

BMW says the new kidney grilles are just part of the evolution of the brand. However, fans aren’t in love with the change. The performance is still there, but how can one love a car that looks so ridiculous? Based on sales figured from Good Car Bad Car, they don’t. Sales of the 3 Series have been in a slump since 2015 when 140,609 units sold. In 2020, only 39,290 units left the dealership. Sales for the 4 Series were at a high in 2017 with 39,634 units selling. In 2020, that number was 12,357. Competition is fierce in these segments, but that isn’t the only reason for slumped sales.

As the new electric BMW iX hits the market, the company is full-speed ahead with this design aesthetic. Dukec says that the design philosophy of the vehicle doesn’t have a name but is more “Form follows experience. This all has to be an experience of joy that [makes] BMW relevant to our customers.”

It appears the brand isn’t out for instant gratification but is more corned with long-lasting success. But will the die-hard fans stick around to be a part of that? Dukec doesn’t seem to care one way or another.

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