BMW has an Aussie secret - Sydney-born automotive designer Calvin Luk.
First published in the September 2015 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.
BMW’s international design team has a secret weapon – an Australian.
Calvin Luk, one of 30 BMW exterior designers worldwide, joined BMW seven years ago. His portfolio includes the 2015 BMW 1 Series facelift.
More significantly, he penned the completely new second-generation BMW X1 SUV. No small achievement at the age of 29.
Luk’s story started when he accosted a BMW rep at the 2001 Sydney motor show, when he was 16. And from there, Luk has gone on to forge a name for himself as one of the Bavarian company’s hottest young designers.
“I was a huge BMW fan at the time because my parents had a BMW 3 Series,” Luk told Wheels at the X1’s international launch in Austria. “There was a new Mini at the Sydney show. When I realised the sales rep was from head office in Germany, I asked if he could pass on a letter for me.”
When the sales rep agreed, Luk sprinted home to type a letter addressed to BMW’s then head of design, the controversial Chris Bangle. “I got a reply. It wasn’t from Chris, but it was from a senior designer and he answered all my questions.”
On BMW’s advice, Luk abandoned his degree at the University of Technology in Sydney. He moved to California, to focus on car design at the renowned Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
“In the middle of my studies I did an internship at BMW in Munich, where I got to meet the designers in person. A job at BMW came after that.”
Luk quickly found himself entering, and winning, internal design competitions against colleagues he had idolised as a teenager.
“I was working with designers that I loved and respected. It was a dream come true.”
Now the young Aussie is heading up design teams on two new models, though of course he won’t reveal which ones.
“I love designing all types of cars,” says Luk, who takes inspiration from music, and even plays the drums in a jazz band.
“They’re all cool in their own way, but right now everyone is really fascinated with the i8. So designing the new i8 one day would be awesome.”
AFTER winning the job of designing the new X1 four years ago, Calvin Luk dedicated himself to perfecting ‘his’ first all-new BMW. Gone is the long bonnet and ungainly stance, replaced instead with a longer roofline and more traditional SUV proportions. “I’m most proud of the front,” he says. “It’s really powerful and it makes a real statement.”
Have talent, will travel
MANY Aussies are making a mark on global car design. From Monash Uni graduate Frank Rudolph and his acclaimed interior work on the Chevy
Bolt EV to Ford GT designer Todd Willing, you don’t have to dig far to turn up an Aussie.
Look at Hyundai. Korean-born Casey Hyun feels at home in the massive Namyang R&D centre, but get him talking and the accent is pure North Ryde, Sydney. He’ll happily talk V8 Supercars and makes sure to get his copy of Wheels every month.
Although study and work took him from Australia to Korea via Japan, Germany and the UK, Hyun’s proud of his Aussie passport and has been contributing to Hyundai’s rapidly evolving design maturity.
Hyun is best-known to Wheels readers for his work on the Hyundai Genesis (2014), the i20 (2014) and Sonata (2010). It’s a meteoric progression for a guy whose first job was designing the hubcap for the iLoad van.
Over in the US, Australian ex-Pininfarina clay modeller Ben Burnett now runs Tesla’s modelling studio.
And then there’s Andrew Smith, executive director for General Motors in charge of global Cadillac and Buick design. That’s a long way from the remote country town of Gilgandra, NSW.
Son of the local Holden dealer, Smith is now steering the design direction of two of America’s most respected marques.
Calvin Luk (right) says his success at BMW in Germany is proof young Australians can make it big on the world stage of car design.
“If you’re passionate about design, there’s nothing stopping you from doing it,” he advises aspiring designers. “Just try everything, try to communicate with those who are doing what you want to do and don’t give up."