Renault’s Patrick le Quement and BMW’s Chris Bangle have baffled motorists with the odd angles and straight lines in their designs, but the controversial designers may have the last laugh.

Renault’s Patrick le Quement and BMW’s Chris Bangle have baffled some motorists with the odd angles and straight lines in their designs, but according to a recent column in the Financial Times, the controversial designers may have the last laugh.

Renault chairman Louis Schweitzer quotes a French saying when asked about the peculiar new design cues, which appear where curves used to be, on his company’s cars: "You cannot count on luck, but you have to take a chance."

The chance Schweitzer refers to has also being taken by a few other rebels against the past decade's trend towards rounder, smoother and - some would say blander - cars. BMW chief designer Bangle earned notoriety for his provocative reshaping of particularly the 7 Series and more recently the Five and the Z4.

But fortune has favoured the brave, John Gapper wrote this week. BMW was prospering with its new cars, despite a furore among traditionalists. After a debacle with the strangely shaped Avantime and Vel Satis, Renault's other models – such as the Mégane subcompact - were selling well.

The commercial logic of distinctive design is clear, he continues. As models and brands have proliferated in the past 10 years, it has become harder for the buying public to distinguish a Renault from a Toyota, for example.

Thus it has been suggested that buyers would select either the cheapest car, or the one with a reputation for reliability, and certain manufacturers, particularly Japanese brands, have cashed in on the two trends.

By standing out from the crowd, a manufacturer may alienate some potential buyers. A recent US study by found that design was one of the main reasons given by consumers for some cars.

But "love-hate" designs also command a higher price, because buyers who like them like them a lot. The study found that provocative models sold faster than bland designs and at a higher average profit margin.

But idiosyncratic car design is risky, Gapper wrote. From sketch to production, making a new model takes three years; it then has to keep selling (with occasional updates to styling) for six or seven more. A car design that seemed like a good idea may end up being discounted to maintain sales.

The dangers can be seen in the global sales patterns of "retro" cars such as the Chrysler PT Cruiser and VW's Beetle. Statistics show that retro designs tend to sell in the same way as fashion items: there is an initial craze among drivers to be seen in something different, but enthusiasm then tails off.

“The best way to avoid this pattern is to produce a design that is distinctive, yet still fits our mental picture of what a BMW or a Renault ought to be,” Gapper wrote.

But there is a fine line between lasting style and transient retro design... Renault's chief designer Le Quement says BMW's Mini has merely a hint of the Alec Issigonis original and driving the new Beetle is like "wearing bell-bottomed velvet trousers".

“It takes a good designer to draw on the past without descending to parody. Many kooky responses are no doubt being sketched at manufacturers around the world even now,” Gapper added. “By the time they roll off production lines, however, the streets will be full of strange angles”.

Original article from Car