has come to an end. The NYT has officially proclaimed Mr. Bangle as the winner. ****** A Flood of Imitators Flatter a Once-Mocked Rump By PHIL PATTON A CIRCLE will be closed next week at the Geneva auto show, when BMW introduces its new Z4 coupe, a production model based on the X coupé design study unveiled in 2001. The X coupé was the first full statement of a new design language for BMW from Christopher E. Bangle, the company's chief of design. He has completed the restatement of BMW's main model lines an array he described as "one sausage, three lengths" when he took over in 1992 in that language. *** Mr. Bangle is arguably the most influential auto designer of his generation and he is not yet 50. He has certainly been the most vilified, inspiring letters of outrage to editors and indignant postings on Web sites. *** In his work, the American-born Mr. Bangle has tried to convey that a car's shape can be expressive as well as functional. To relieve the bulk and express the dynamism of the previously stolid 7 Series, he sculptured the sides, creased the hood and separated the rear deck from the fenders, producing a look widely mocked as the "Bangle butt." Critics focused on what seemed an ungainly afterthought, a committee-ordered addition. But wonder of wonders customers were less offended than the press. That most-derided feature is today one of the most imitated. Many Korean and Japanese models now feature similar rear ends. The 2007 Toyota Camry is one; even Mercedes-Benz, BMW's archrival, seems to have taken a page from Mr. Bangle's sketchpad for its new S-Class flagship. *** "We have been one of the few trying to move this industry out of the doldrums of simple branding and engineering," Mr. Bangle said. BMW is leading, he boasts; competitors focus so much on the rear because they are looking at it from behind. Mr. Bangle has been critical of retro styles. This has set him in opposition to designers like J Mays, vice president of design at Ford, who has been circumspect in speaking to American journalists about Mr. Bangle but was more forthright in a recent interview with a German magazine, Auto Motor und Sport. "There's no doubt Chris Bangle has had an influence," Mr. Mays said. But, he added, "What I see at the moment does not please me. I don't like the 7, and there is not much at BMW that looks German to me. Germans were always famous for the most highly developed cars in the world, but the current design does not communicate that."