Thomas von Salomon

BMW i Head of Design, Benoit Jacob, Leaves for Chinese EV Startup

Thanks to our contacts in the industry, Form Trends has learned that Benoit Jacob, BMW i’s Head of Design, has left the company to join Future Mobility Corp, a Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer based in Shenzhen.

Future Mobility is backed by Tencent Holdings, Asia’s largest Internet company, and Foxconn Technology Group, which assembles products for Apple. Sources within BMW have confirmed Jacob’s departure two weeks ago though details regarding his new position remain scarce.

Jacob has been Head of BMW’s i sub-brand since 2010, when BMW initiated its plan to launch premium mobility products underpinned by sustainability. The first vehicle unveiled under his leadership was the BMW i3, which was followed by the i8 sports car. He also served as vice president of BMW Group Design (reporting to senior VP Adrian van Hooydonk) and as Head of BMW Group Advanced Design. All reference of his existence has now been wiped clear off BMW’s media databases.

Jacob didn’t immediately reply to requests for an interview, so I contacted the people he has worked for in the past.

“Benoit is a fantastic designer,” former BMW Group design chief Chris Bangle told Form Trends. “He’s a wonderful human being, a really energetic guy — he enthuses people.”

Bangle recalls recruiting Jacob from his chief designer role at Audi advanced design in Munich back in 2004: “It was really funny. When we had the interviews we wanted it really low key. He was working at the Audi studio in Munich and we went to this place where everybody knows everybody and he was speaking really loudly, super energetic, oblivious to the fact that we were trying to negotiate something secret.”

Bangle credits Jacob with the beginnings of the X6 project, his first at BMW, which was also the first project where Adrian van Hooydonk was leading the BMW brand design team. He later worked on a series of projects — including the fantastic M1 Hommage concept car — and then went on to work on the BMW MegaCity vehicle project, which became the i3.

Benoit Jacob design portrait (above). Also check out his TED Talk (main video)

Before joining BMW from Audi, Jacob previously worked at Volkswagen Group’s Design Center Europe in Sitges, a coastal town near Barcelona in Spain. In his role as a design supervisor, Jacob worked for Achim Anscheidt (current Bugatti design director) alongside Gregory Guillaume (now Kia’s European design director) and Daniel Simon, to whom he later sold his personal car — the incredible two-seat Renault Sport Spider.

Jacob, a Frenchman, started his career at Renault in France on an internship. He simply presented his portfolio of sketches to Patrick le Quément and was hired on the spot for a year’s work experience.

“I have a particular fondness for this lanky guy whom I consider to be an excellent leader as well as one of the most creative individuals I have met in a long career, not to mention the fact that he is just a very amiable person,” Patrick le Quément, former Senior Vice President of Corporate Design at Renault, told Form Trends.

“When he joined us, he was a little like a young mad professor Cocinus, continuously losing contact with planet earth, excited by the unending flow of images that crossed his creative brain at an ultra-rapid rate.”

Renault sponsored Jacob to attend the European arm of the prestigious Art Center College of Design’s European campus in Vevey, Switzerland, and he returned to work under le Quément’s direction once he’d received his degree.

“He turned out to be a brilliant designer who designed the second generation Laguna sedan and station wagon and the Spider, one of my all-time favorites, as well as the cute Fiftie concept car presented in 1996,” said le Quément.

Jacob’s time with Renault had a profound influence on him and opened his eyes to the multifaceted nature of his profession. He began to view design as a holistic, all-embracing discipline, which involves far more than sketching cars. Designing a vehicle requires close collaboration with specialists from the engineering side, from marketing and from research and development. He very quickly took on board the interdisciplinary character of his job.

Benoit Jacob with the BMW i8

“When he left Renault Design I knew we had lost one of our top talents. I knew that he would grow up, that he would even wear a jacket, comb his hair once in a while and become an almost rigorous manager, and perhaps an exemplary manager given an assistant or two,” le Quément recounts. “I also knew that young designers would continue to fight to work with him and that he would remain to be a creative visionary, a designer the like there are not too many that you meet in a whole career.”


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