With the BMW i Vision Circular, the BMW Group is looking ahead to a compact BMW for the year 2040 that is focused squarely on sustainability and luxury. The four-seater is fully electrically powered and offers a generous amount of interior space within its around four-metre-long footprint. It has furthermore been designed according to circular economy principles across the board and therefore symbolises the BMW Group’s ambitious plan to become the world’s most sustainable manufacturer in the individual premium mobility space.
The Vision Vehicle is one of five different concept vehicles with which the BMW Group is presenting how it envisages individual urban mobility at the IAA Mobility 2021 event. Under a single umbrella spanning electric mobility, digitalisation and sustainability, the five pioneering concepts create a versatile mobility mix on two and four wheels fuelled by sustainable thinking, which comprehensively addresses an extremely wide range of mobility needs in the face of fast-changing requirements and growing challenges.
“The BMW i Vision Circular illustrates our all-encompassing, meticulous way of thinking when it comes to sustainable mobility. It symbolises 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.”
The overriding design aim for the BMW i Vision Circular was to create a vehicle that is optimised for closed materials cycles and achieves 100% use of recycled materials / 100% recyclability. This involves making particular use of materials that have already completed a product life cycle – or secondary materials as they are known – alongside certified bio-based raw materials. The same applies to the energy storage device: the all-solid-state battery in the BMW i Vision Circular is 100 per cent recyclable and manufactured almost entirely using materials sourced from the recycling loop. It will achieve much higher energy density with significantly reduced use of the most valuable resources.
Circular design – a new approach
“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, Head of BMW Group Design. Circular design embraces the four principles of RE:THINK, RE:DUCE, RE:USE and RE:CYCLE.
RE:THINK. Circular product design begins by thinking about things differently. For the BMW i Vision Circular this meant scrutinising processes and manufacturing technologies and thinking differently. The function performed by each component part up to now was examined, after which the part was removed without replacement or cleverly repackaged where appropriate and then designed to enable closed materials cycles.
RE:DUCE. “I do more with less” has long been an integral part of the BMW i philosophy. The BMW i Vision Circular demonstrates this through the rigorously applied reduction in the number of component parts, material groups and surface finishes, dispensing completely with exterior paintwork, leather and chrome, for instance. Materials from bio-based raw materials also help to minimise environmental impact and contribute to a smaller carbon footprint. As far as the digitalisation features are concerned, smart control panels reduce both complexity and the use of materials. In addition to this, digital surface treatments enable a reduction in the number of hardware variants at the same time as opening up whole new possibilities for design.
RE:USE. Ideally, a sustainable product will have a long lifespan, with a rich and enjoyable product experience making people a lot more enthusiastic about using the product – and using it for longer. One way of ensuring this happens is by incorporating digitality to create new experiences. The display options via digital display surfaces in the exterior and interior of a car and the availability of “option as a service” allow users to constantly bring something new to the vehicle. Constant updates over the air and cloud computing keep the product technically up to date for longer. And the vehicle’s life cycle can also be extended by refurbishing and re-design. Easily detachable connections make it far simpler for users to replace individual materials and component parts, allowing them to keep restyling the vehicle.
RE:CYCLE. When it comes to the materials used, the focus with the BMW i Vision Circular is on recycled materials (“secondary first” approach) which are intended to be reused again at the end of the product life cycle. Having a small number of different mono-material groups with connections that can easily be undone is crucial for good recycling. For this reason, the BMW i Vision Circular avoids bonded connections or composite materials and uses intelligent types of connection, such as cords, press studs and quick-release fasteners, instead. It showcases a purpose-developed, aesthetically appealing quick-release fastener for the wheels, seats and instrument panel that creates a ‘joyful fusion’. The laser-etched graphic in the centre of the quick-release fastener is made up of the letters of the word “circular” arranged in the form of a circle. A special socket wrench separates the component parts joined by the fastener with a single rotation. The ‘joyful fusion’ fastener creates a theft-proof and stable connection and, at the same time, allows many component parts of the vehicle to be dismantled with just a single tool.
Refined surfaces rather than paintwork
The BMW i Vision Circular deliberately avoids the use of paint for the exterior, and instead features a main body made from secondary aluminium with a light-gold anodised finish. The calmer feel of this Anodized Mystic Bronze shade contrasts with the more “animated” and richly coloured surface at the rear made from heat-treated steel. The heat treatment process creates the colour Temper Blue Steel, an alluring interplay of bluish purple surfaces whose cloud-like aspect would lend a highly individual touch to any vehicle. The refinement processes employed for the individual surfaces give them significant visual impact, while preserving the raw materiality of the two metals for optimal reusability. This shows how it will be possible to refine surfaces using innovative processes in future without the need for paint finishes.
Innovative details in the wheel area
The tyres in “Vivid Blue Rubber” are made from certified, sustainably cultivated natural rubber and have a slightly transparent appearance. Extra coloured, recycled rubber particles are added to the tyre compound for strengthening, creating an intriguing terrazzo effect and purposefully highlighting the reuse of materials. The wheel rims are designed and manufactured with minimal materials use. Rim centres with maximum permeability provide brake cooling, while the more enclosed surfaces to the outer reaches of the wheels ensure the greatest possible aerodynamic efficiency. The wheels are fixed in place using the “joyful fusion” quick-release fastener that adorns the centre of the wheel, forming a sophisticated visual highlight. Only visible when looking from above, a narrow fin is integrated centrally in the rear section of the glass roof. It contains the communications and antenna technology, and provides information on the status of the vehicle (open/closed, charge level of the battery, etc.). It also integrates the high-mounted centre brake light.
Vehicle-to-grid opens up new possible uses
Alongside all its material and design innovations, the BMW i Vision Circular also offers the possibility of usage in a bidirectional charging scenario. Here, the vehicle would act as a mobile energy storage device and feed power to its surroundings, e.g. buildings and infrastructure. It can even be fed back into the power grid to help absorb peaks in demand.
Data-based smart mobility for maximum efficiency in urban traffic
Another key measure in the drive towards sustainable urban mobility extends beyond the actual vehicle: making intelligent use of the available real-time and long-term traffic data for maximum mobility efficiency. To date, the BMW Group has manufactured far in excess of 14 million connected vehicles that are now on the world’s roads. What’s more, the degree of connectivity and the precision of the sensor technology used are constantly improving. The information gathered by each vehicle isn’t just used to support its own functions though. With the user’s consent, it is shared with the entire connected fleet, allowing all vehicles to benefit from this swarm intelligence. Speed recommendations could be optimised to make better use of traffic light phases (“green wave”), traffic flows forecasted more accurately and periods of congestion minimised as a result of vehicles communicating with each other and their environment. CO2 emissions caused by stop-start traffic or even searching for a parking spot could be reduced significantly across a large number of users.