GRR

The BMW I Vision Circular is a recyclable EV

07th September 2021
Bob Murray

See yourself driving one of these in the year 2040? BMW hopes so. Unveiled at the Munich Motor Show this week, it’s the company’s latest concept vehicle, called i Vision Circular. It’s a bit like the South Circular but a whole lot better for the environment.

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BMW wants us to view it in the round, so to speak, as its front-runner in the race to be the world’s most sustainable premium car-maker. And there’s an awful lot about this car that’s sustainable. Everything, basically, and over its entire life cycle. 

To achieve its targets of 100 per cent recycled materials and 100 per cent recyclability and justify its eponymous “circular” economic and environmental principles, it explores all manner of technologies we have only just heard of, and a whole lot more you have never heard of. What, for instance, is a phygital user interface or joyful fusion? 

Sustainability is good of course but we’ll wager the reason we are all now gaping at pictures off the i Vision Circular is the way it looks. Which is like no other BMW ever. Its squat, tall form on a wheel-at-each-corner platform only 4m long is closest to the equally one-box i3, in its day also a paragon of sustainability. But the i Vision Circular takes a far more, er, rounded approach. 

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Rounded but also a bit angular for a shape that, to us at least, becomes more convincing the more you see it. A dramatically short nose and huge raked-back windscreen merge into a rising roofline, creating a very thrusting dynamic. The surfaces like the smoothly flared wheel arches have a tautness about them, like they are made of material stretched tight over a frame. 

In fact, the body is made of aluminium – second-use ally of course, recycled from waste. Paint being a no-no in a new sustainable world, the body is anodised with a light-gold finish, contrasting with a rear section made of recycled steel with a cloud-like, blueish finish. 

The number of parts used and the variety of materials employed has been kept to a minimum, important when the car’s life is over and it needs to be disassembled. Much of it comes apart with the use of a single tool in a process that BMW has inexplicably dubbed joyful fusion. 

The result is cool looking but not perhaps very BMW. Would you recognise it as a Bimmer? There are badges of course – engraved emblems rather than badges, the rear one behind the dark glass tailgate – and there’s the suggestion of a Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar. 

There’s also the normal BMW identifier of the kidney grille up front, but forget now any thought of a shiny surround and chromed bars. This is the kidney grille reinterpreted as a digital surface. It extends across the entire width of the front end, merging with the headlights. 

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The i Vision Circular is a four-seater with “portal” opposing doors and no B pillar so the entire sides of the car open up. For a machine only 4m long, it does appear spacious and, with lots of glass, very light. The interior plays up the luxury side with designer furniture-style seats and metal accents in gold-bronze anodised finishes. 

There’s no chrome or leather or even glue to stick all the recycled plastic components together. Instead of bonding, BMW suggests cords, press studs and quick-release fasteners are a more sustainable way to attach everything. More joyful fusion. 

It appears to us you need a degree in particle physics to understand the “dashboard”. Officially it’s a phygital user interface that takes the form of a hovering, V-shaped sculpture that projects into the cabin. At its heart is a 3D-printed, crystal body with nerve-like structures for enthralling lighting effects. And what is “phygital”?. It’s what you get when you turn digitality into a haptic experience. Apparently.

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As a concept for 19 years hence, technical details, as well as that dashboard, are probably still in the engineers’ heads. But there is one thing that BMW has confirmed: this electric car would be powered by an all-solid-state battery. Apart from being more energy-dense than conventional lithium-ion cells, it would be 100 per cent recyclable and manufactured almost entirely from recycled materials. 

Twenty forty here we come! Or maybe sooner? On that BMW chairman Oliver Zipse is clear: “We appreciate there are many BMW fans longing for a first foretaste of the ‘Neue Klasse’ (next-gen electric models), 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.”

So there you have it. What goes round comes round after all…

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