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Chris Bangle is the tortured artist railing against the society that doesn’t appreciate his genius. His tenure as head of design at BMW was marked by controversy. His 2002 7-Series was loved by some and loathed by others. The loathers may have outnumbered the lovers, though a fair vote was never held (and the loathers probably couldn’t tell you the difference between styling and design). The rear deck of that 7-Series, in particular, was referred to by some as “The Bangle Butt.” The name stuck.

In 2009, after functioning as a lightning rod for criticism in seemingly everything he did there, he left BMW and formed Chris Bangle Associates in Turin. For years, CBA designed bottles, buildings and maybe even bocce balls — everything but cars.

Well, Chris Bangle is back, baby! And The Bangle Butt is now not just the rear end of a car but the entire car — an entirely new way of looking at transportation, even. Last night, Nov. 28, at his alma mater, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, Bangle took the wraps off his latest creation, which he calls REDS. 

Bangle and his car

Bangle and his car

REDS has a distinct look not unlike the Airstream Basecamp trailer we tried out last summer — if you turned it around and drove it backward. It also looks a little like an air-traffic control turret. Or one of those early drive-through windows of burger joints where you paid your money through the little window. Or an ice cream truck that serves marijuana ice cream. Or maybe a Helms Bakery truck, a reference you’d know only if you grew up in Southern California.

But one thing is certain: This ain’t no mainstream anything. 

REDS taillights

REDS’ taillights

The REDS is meant not so much for driving as for sitting in traffic, specifically traffic in China. Yes, that’s what Bangle himself said, or at least he is quoted in his own press material as saying that. It would have been nice to talk to him in person, but our invitation to the design shindig of the year was lost in the mail between here and Turin.

CBA was approached by a Chinese firm called the China Hi-Tech Group Corp. to build a car for sitting in Chinese traffic, where 90 percent of the time cars don’t move, we are told in the release.

How did they come up with this particular shape? Here is how Bangle described the creative process to our sister publication Automotive News (It’ll help if you read it in the accent of Hans und Franz or that guy on SNL who used to say, “Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance”):

“He related a story about one of his designers, a veteran stylist whom Bangle asked to do something quite radical. The designer told him, ‘Every bone in my body refuses to do this.’ He said, ‘I can’t do this,’ and he got sick, literally sick. He came down with a bad flu and he spent three days in his hotel room eating soup — and drawing what I asked him to draw. And when he came out, he had created something no one had ever seen, and he said to me, ‘I am liberated.”

We use the same process when writing about cars.

Three-person configuration

Three-person configuration

So did the REDS come from the flu? We don’t know, but here it is.

REDS has seating for four adults when it’s moving and five when stopped; it has space for one or two suitcases and the driver’s seat spins around. Beyond that, things get vague. Bangle’s press material claims it has a best-in-class 0-50 kph time but doesn’t say what that time is or what a 0-60 mph might be, assuming it will go 60 mph; range is supposed to be “at the top of its class,” which could mean anything, depending on how you classify the class. That range is supposed to be “supported by the largest solar-panel roof in its category,” but those solar roof panels provide very little actual electricity — in another statement, the roof panels are said only to run the air conditioning (and again, what IS the category?); it has “excellent crash-test results thanks to the aluminum spaceframe surrounding the batteries” but how about whatever’s surrounding the passengers? How will they do in a crash? It also has a “suspension system designed by Italian race engineers,” which, again, could mean absolutely anything. After wading through the design speak of the press material we got, it’s not even clear if this will be autonomous or not. There are a lot of unanswered questions about this rolling art project.

But don’t let that stop you. Even though specifics are sorely lacking from this thing, Bangle’s material suggests that it’s coming soon: “It is not a concept car, a research program or a design exercise for an indefinite future; Instead it is the first phase of a program with the aim to start manufacturing in the near term.”

But, sadly, cars don’t run on design rhetoric alone (“… this disturbance only serves to center the eye on the hypnotic trapezoid of color…”). At some point, you have to manufacture them and make them go forward, turn and brake. We look forward to actual information and less blah-blah.