FRANKFURT — Karim Habib’s departure as head of BMW brand design creates more upheaval in the group’s design organization following two key departures last year.
It also leaves BMW vulnerable at a time when CEO Harald Krueger is attempting to retake global luxury-sales leadership after losing out to Mercedes-Benz in 2016.
Habib’s departure follows closely on the heels of two other key designers, whose positions have been vacant since last year. Anders Warming and Benoit Jacob, the respective design bosses for Mini and BMW i, left last year to join Chinese-backed companies. That leaves just Giles Taylor of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars as the sole remaining brand head of design reporting to group design chief Adrian van Hooydonk.
BMW declined to confirm Habib’s departure, which was first reported in the German car magazine auto motor und sport, and it was unknown whether he was going to another automaker.
Starting a decade ago with Peter Schreyer’s decision to leave Volks-wagen to style cars for Kia in Korea, designers have shown they are powerful enough to put entire brands on the map.
When unveiling last March his strategy for the next 10 years, Krueger emphasized the “vital role” design plays as a differentiator among brands, adding his plan included “taking our design to the next level.”
Nevertheless, the new 5 series was panned for its conservative styling, which project leader Johann Kistler defended as necessary for volume models in order to protect residual values. Some motoring critics were also surprised by the decision by BMW to flip its signature kidney grille upside down for the X2 concept crossover that debuted in Paris.
But Habib was also responsible for the fascinating Vision Next 100 concept, with its flexible exterior skin and revolutionary cockpit that communicated via 800 moving triangles on the dashboard — collectively grouped under the term “alive geometry.”
Habib, 46, took charge of the brand’s styling in 2012, reporting to van Hooydonk. He joined BMW in 1998 but left for a short stint at Mercedes-Benz from 2008 to 2010.
A Lebanese-Canadian, he studied engineering at Canada’s McGill University before attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and joining BMW as an interior designer.