BMW is taking its commitment to sustainability and the so-called circular economy to a new level with the i Vision Circular concept revealed this week at IAA Munich. Although the name of the concept uses one of BMW’s favorite new marketing terms, the underlying idea isn’t difficult to understand: the BMW i Vision Circular is a recyclable car built for the year 2040 with an emphasis on sustainability and luxury. While the new concept looks like a BMW city car updated for the 21st century, it’s actually an exhibition of cutting-edge 100% recycled materials that will also be recyclable when the car that they comprise reaches the end of its useful life.
Consistent with BMW’s description that the i Vision Circular is a concept for a model that might arrive for the year 2040, many of the materials and other innovations of the concept are decades away from introduction and series production in conventional cars. This fact doesn’t change the possibility that they may be introduced at some point in the future, and the idea of a recyclable car is merely the latest way BMW is demonstrating its commitment to the future.
“The BMW i Vision Circular illustrates our all-encompassing, meticulous way of thinking when it comes to sustainable mobility. It symbolizes our ambition to be a pioneering force in the development of a circular economy,” explains Oliver Zipse, chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG. “We lead the way for resource efficiency in production and we are seeking to extend this status to all stages of the vehicle life cycle. This is a question of economic sustainability too, as the current trend in commodity prices clearly shows the financial consequences in store for any industry that is reliant on finite resources.” He adds, “We will take the next big step towards achieving this with the “Neue Klasse” models. We appreciate there are many BMW fans longing for a first foretaste of the “Neue Klasse,” but the BMW i Vision Circular isn’t it. I can promise, however, that, on a sustainability level, the “Neue Klasse” is being developed with the same mindset applied for the BMW i Vision Circular.”
“We gave thorough consideration to circularity from the outset during the design process for the BMW i Vision Circular. As a result, this Vision Vehicle is packed with innovative ideas for combining sustainability with a new, inspirational aesthetic—we call this approach “circular design,”” explains Adrian van Hooydonk, senior vice president BMW Group design. Circular design embraces the four principles of rethink, reduce, reuse, and recycle.
While the design of the BMW i Vision Circular is in the eye of the beholder, the composition of the vehicle is where the true innovation is found. Instead of painted metal panels, the i Vision Circular is made from recycled aluminum with an anodized finish in light gold, and the appearance of the Temper Blue Steel aft portion is the result of heat treatment applied to the metal. The wheels are another item of note, as they are made from sustainably-cultivated natural rubber, and have a translucent appearance with a Vivid Blue Rubber look in combination with the terrazzo effect which is made possible by the use of recycled rubber particles. As opposed to bonded materials, the body panels and wheels of the i Vision Circular are held in place with quick-release fasteners, cords, and press friction studs for fast replacement and easy disassembly for recycling.
The interior is another exposition of of sustainability and innovative materials. The color scheme seems like it would promote calmness and relaxation, with elements of grey, taupe, and what BMW refers to as Monochrome Mint creating an atmosphere of tranquility. Other colors found within the cabin include Gold Bronze, which BMW has used on other recent concepts and models, along with anodized Mystic Bronze. Instead of conventional instruments or even digital screens, the i Vision Circular uses what are described as crystal interference displays in place of the gauge cluster and center information screen (where iDrive is situated on current BMW models). The displays have a unique glowing 3D appearance to them, and extend to the doors and windshield, the latter of which stretches above the interior occupants and acts as another place through which information can be conveyed.
Of course, interior materials are also recycled and recyclable, with notable elements that include velvet-like upholstery that is made from secondary plastic. Deep-pile carpeting in the aforementioned Monochrome Mint color is another one. The fabric used for the upholstery is situated within a light gold aluminum frame and is sewn into place using a Jacquard pattern and quilting. Like parts of the exterior, the seats and instrument panel are also removable thanks to quick-release fasteners, which allows for easy dismantling, separating, and sorting of materials. Rear occupants are shaded from the sun by a pair of panes of glass, and the sound profile of the i Vision Circular comes courtesy of Hans Zimmer and Renzo Vitale, the creative director of sound for the BMW Group.
“The idea was to combine different samples to keep injecting new life into the sounds inside the vehicle, in the same way its materials get a new lease of life,” explains Hans Zimmer. “The concept of objects potentially having an almost infinite lifespan inspired us to also use samples from physical instruments from a bygone age, such as a famous old cello that still works in modern times thanks to the wonders of digital circularity.”
The are many other innovations associated with the BMW i Vision Circular, and BMW’s new Circular Lab communication and experience platform is one place where they’re originating. Conceived with the intent of harboring enhanced dialog, cooperation, and new perspectives, BMW intends to use the Circular Lab to raise awareness about the so-called circular economy, reduce what can be reduced, and to reuse what can be most optimally reused.
Although BMW’s Neue Klasse platform is being designed with many of the same tenets as the i Vision Circular, the Neue Klasse is set to arrive before the end of the decade and may still use internal combustion or Diesel engines in addition to electric propulsion. The i Vision Circular, on the other hand, envisions a vehicle for the year 2040, while the Neue Klasse is intended to fulfill many of the same ambitions, but as more of a stepping stone. These include BMW seeking to reduce use-phase Co2 emissions by 50% by 2030, a 40% reduction in Co2 emissions during the platform’s lifecycle, and the use of up to 50% recycled material in its construction, among more.
Beyond concepts and platforms like the the i Vision Circular and the Neue Klasse, BMW is also looking to significantly reduce its carbon footprint by the year 2030 through the use of innovative alternative materials. Some of these include PVC synthetic leather, leather made from cactus-based material called Deserttex, and Mirum. There are also recycled plastics and bioplastics, which take the place of conventional petroleum-based plastic, and textiles made from synthetic or 100% recycled materials. Because of the composition of these materials, excess can be fed back into the production cycle and reused several times. BMW is also researching what are referred to as mono-materials, which eschew multilayer, multi-material construction in favor of a singular approach. One prime example are vehicle seats, which are typically made up of leather or textile upholstery on top of foam. Combining the two allows for greater recycling potential and ease of separation and potential reuse down the road.
While the BMW i Vision Circular remains decades away from an eventual reality, it offers what is perhaps best interpreted as a roadmap for the future of BMW, and how upcoming models will be designed and built. When it arrives in the next several years, the Neue Klasse will bring all of it one step closer to tangibility.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy BMW AG.]