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  • Truck Trend Interview: Klaus Bischoff, Executive Director of Volkswagen Design

Truck Trend Interview: Klaus Bischoff, Executive Director of Volkswagen Design

Gary Witzenburg
Dec 1, 2019
Klaus Bischoff grew up with Volkswagens and has stayed with them ever since. He was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, and his family always had Volkswagens, and they were artistic, too—his father was an architect and his sister is an architect. His first car was a Beetle, his second was a "T2" bus, followed by a Polo and a Golf. And while studying industrial design at the Braunschweig University of Art, he says he was already hoping to work for Volkswagen.
"In those days, car design in Germany was not so familiar," he relates, "so you had to find a way into the industry. In the middle of my studies, my entry ticket was a Volkswagen competition. The prize was an internship. I won that competition, and from there on I never let go. VW's design chief said, 'Do you want to come here?' I said, 'Yes.' I started in 1989 in the design department and from there worked myself up the ladder through interior, exterior, various studios and positions, and was finally appointed head of Volkswagen Design in 2007."
Photo 2/7   |   Truck Trend Interview Klaus Bischoff Vw
Truck Trend: What is your design philosophy?
Klaus Bischoff: My approach is to do things that are different and unique, full of character and functionality. The Beetle and T2 were the brand shapers, well-known icons we had to respect and understand, but you need a clear vision of where you want to go. If you follow the trends, run behind fashion, and follow what others are doing, you steer into the future with your eyes in the rearview mirror. German design stands for purity, to carve out the essence of what the thing is made for, to come to a degree of sophistication and perfection that has not been achieved up to that point in time. We always try to leap forward into new territory.
 
TT: Has that philosophy evolved through the years?
KB: As a young designer, you have big ideas. You want to conquer the world. You believe so strongly that you have the answer to the question of where the world should go. But over time, you start to understand what a timeless approach to design means. My father taught me from the very beginning that a meaningful design stands the test of time. When you come out of school, you think everything is too clean and tidy, and maybe you should go for something fancier. Or maybe not. Maybe it's better to rework designs over time to be better and better. To understand a brand like Volkswagen—the size of it, the philosophy of it, what it stands for, what it means to people and why they buy it—is something you need to dive into, understand, and digest over time. Globally, we are very successful with what we do.
 
TT: If you had worked for some other brand, would your philosophy have been different?
KB: The mission of each brand is different. It is great to have an automobile culture where each brand has a different purpose and meaning. We can offer different styles of transportation so people can fall in love with a Mercedes, a BMW, an Audi, or a Volkswagen. With every purchase decision, you tell your social partners what you are made of, what you stand for, and what your desires are—and Volkswagen's very specific history and meaning to people is an understated, clean approach. It sounds easy, but it's not.
Photo 3/7   |   Truck Trend Interview Klaus Bischoff
TT: What were the design priorities for the Tiguan?
KB: It was to do something unique and super functional, especially the short-wheelbase version here in Europe because its proportions are a bit better. The proportions of the Tiguan in the States, with the long greenhouse, are not perfect, but it has a huge advantage in functionality. That is something Volkswagen is delivering—a fantastic use of interior space, very good usability and functionality, in combination with a unique design approach. Volkswagen is always trying to find the best balance of customer demands and perfect that balance.
 
TT: What were the design priorities for the Atlas?
KB: To create the Atlas with clearly identifiable SUV proportions, a vertical front end and a huge cabin was not an easy task because we had to bend our internal rules for that design. We had designed cars with a snout on the road and a falling bonnet [hood], so we had to conquer new territories. There was a huge discussion, and we had a breakthrough. Compared to Tiguan, you can clearly see the different design philosophy. The Tiguan is more wedge with a falling bonnet and a lower fascia, while the Atlas is more upright and proud with a horizontal bonnet. To create something that is understood as an SUV, you have to have the proportions right with a proud-standing front and enough cargo space and functionality to better the competition. Atlas was the first time we had a chance to come to the world with a true SUV with an understanding of American tastes.
 
TT: How is the Atlas Cross Sport different from that?
KB: The wheelbase is the same, but the roof is lower, the angle of the tail is different, and it has a shorter rear overhang with a little less trunk, but still a very roomy interior. In the side view, it is more coupe-like but without compromise in functionality. Even as a tall guy, you won't feel cramped in the back seat. That's Volkswagen—very cool styling but without compromising functionality. From my point of view, it is a very attractive proposition for the American market.
Photo 4/7   |   Truck Trend Interview Klaus Bischoff
TT: How does Volkswagen's major effort toward electrification affect design?
KB: Volkswagen is transforming itself into a large manufacturer of electric cars, and that opens a whole new chapter. We have shown that direction with our ID. family of show cars, and we have started that journey into the future with our first production ID. from the first totally green factory designated for electric vehicles only. The ID.s are a leap forward in design with a brave approach to stand out and not fall into the trap to be fashionable. All the ID. show cars we have done so far—from the original ID. concept to fullsize SUVs, the Buzz, the Buggy—are on their way to production. They are all true projects following a strong strategy and a whole different design challenge because their platform is laid out completely different, with super-short overhangs, big wheels, a very fluid, aerodynamic approach, and a new digital user experience without compromising interior space or functionality.
 
What's Behind the Two Letters, I & D?
ID. is a new, independent product series in the Volkswagen brand portfolio. The name stands for intelligent design, identity, and visionary technologies. While the Beetle once mobilized the masses and the Golf in every new generation has brought innovations into the class named after it, Volkswagen says ID. models will make e-mobility attractive for a broad range of customers.

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