Australian designers in charge of global cars are rare to say the least, but one up-and-comer is BMW’s Calvin Luk, who has recently seen his vision come to life in the all-new BMW X1 and updated 1 Series.
The Sydney-born 29-year old spent the first 18 years of his life here - he started his studies at the University of Technology in Sydney - before moving to Pasadena in the United States to study car design.
Long before that though, his journey started at the Sydney Motor Show in 2001, where Luk saw the unveiling of then-new Mini.
“I was at the Sydney auto show when I was about 16 and was sort of a BMW fan because my parents had a 3 Series,” Luk told CarAdvice at the launch of the new X1 in Germany this week.
“I was so fascinated by it, and there was the launch of the new Mini at this show and I asked the sales representative 'can me and my mates get in the back of the car to see how many people we can squeeze in to take a photo?'
"And he had this slight German accent to his voice and I said, ‘oh are you from Germany?’ And he said ‘Yes I am from head office’, and I asked if he would pass a letter on for me to BMW... He said 'yeah sure', so I ran home and typed up this design letter to [then head of BMW design] Chris Bangle and asked him how I could be a BMW designer.”
Much to his surprise, Luk got a response form a senior designer at BMW, which not only inspired him to further pursue his dream job, but also came with some valuable advice.
From there he applied for an internship at BMW in Munich and later took a full time position at the Munich-based company after finishing his degree.
Luk has been a full-time designer with BMW for the last seven years and he won an internal design competition between 20 to 30 other designers to have his vision of the 1 Series facelift and the all-new X1 become reality.
“It’s a dream come true,” Luk told us when asked what it meant to have his vision come to life.
Luk started working on the design of the new X1 back when he was just 25, which he described as his primary obsession during the four-year development cycle.
As the exterior designer of the BMW 1 Series update and all-new X1, it marks the first time an Australian has designed the exterior of a German-branded vehicle from the ground up. Luk says going for a design that will stand the test of time requires a sense of confidence.
“I think when you are designing, you are on a different time line and you’re always thinking of the future and what could it be, so when you design you try and push as far as you can… [There’s] certain confidence and trust in yourself, obviously you’re creating something from nothing and you have to have a certain trust that this is the way and it’s going to be great and sustain itself for that period of time," he said.
Luk says the healthy competition created a sense of stress that pushed him to do his best work. In particular, when he competed against BMW designers whose work he admired growing up.
“It feels like, I think back to the HSE (high school certificate in NSW), the sort of stress that sort of motivates you to do better.”
Asked what advice he would have for aspiring Australians who wish to be car designers, Luk said it mainly comes down to not giving up, particularly given the demise of the local automotive manufacturing industry.
“My advice is, I don’t think it’s so dependent on the local industry, I think if you have something that you are passionate about there’s nothing to stop you from trying to do it. Just try everything, try and find a way to communicate to those that are doing what you enjoy and are interested in, just keep trying.
“I remember going to the BMW dealership when my parents were servicing their car and talking to the staff there and asking how I could write to the Melbourne office.”
Luk says there are numerous car design communities online which would make an idea starting point of aspiring designers.
Although unwilling to comment on future product, Luk’s place at BMW will likely see him in charge of future design projects, putting an Australian slant on what is the world’s best selling luxury automotive brand.