A few weeks ago, Mini went to work with fashion designer Paul Smith on the Mini STRIP, called "sustainable design with a twist" with pared back components fashioned from renewable, sustainable materials. If the Mini STRIP was a glimpse of what the BMW Group is thinking about when it comes to commerce's environmental stewardship, the BMW i Vision Circular concept is a documentary on the subject with footnotes and a bibliography. Unveiled at IAA Munich along with four other concepts, this is a vision of what could BMW could provide in 2040. Here, the "circular" in the concept's name refers to a comprehensive sustainability cycle, the roughly 13-foot-long hatch — the length of an i3 — made with recycled materials and 100% recyclable itself.
The Circular is, naturally, a battery-electric vehicle, using a solid-state pack built up almost entirely with recycled materials, and fully able to be recycled. The bodywork above the pack cuts back on the number of necessary parts as much as possible, and connects those parts in ways that avoid glues, adhesives, and composites to make them easy to disassemble. This means cords, press studs, quick-release fasteners, and a custom, laser-etched fastener dubbed "joyful fusion." (Remember, joy is the way forward for BMW.) The joyful fusion connector is fastened and unfasted in a single rotation with a special wrench. The ease of disassembly combined with features like over-the-air upgrades could lengthen the useful life of a vehicle.
If those are the meat and potatoes, the special sauce is digital flexing outside and in. The Circular doesn't have a kidney grille, the kidney is the grille, being two digital screens running from side to side. BMW's iconic double headlights appear at the edges, not as circles but as angle double lines. And instead of a three-dimensional logo identifying the brand, the roundel is laser etched into the aluminum bodywork.
Most of that body is made of recycled aluminum with a light-gold anodized finish called Anodized Mystic Bronze. It contrasts with the rear, fashioned from recycled, heat-treated steel that's taken on a color called Temper Blue Steel. The hem around the hatch — the bumpers and side sills — are from recycled plastic. They pair with the Vivid Blue Rubber tires made of recycled rubber flecked with colored rubber particles that strengthen the compound. The wheels are held on at their centers by a joyful fusion fastener.
Portal doors enable easy access to the forward lounge chairs and the elevated rear bench topped by restraints that look like cushions. Taupe and violet colors above merge into mint carpeting, with plenty of Anodized Mystic Bronze accents. 3D-printed materials cut down on wasted material. The crystal form in the center of the instrument panel is cut through with wired "nerve-like structures" that create a light show to demonstrate the Circular's "thinking." The instrumentation and infotainment, however, are projected across the width of the lower part of the windshield. The driver can control what's displayed and where by using thumb pads set into protrusions on the 3D-printed steering wheel. UI designers grouped function and gestures to create an interface that BMW calls, "phygital." Physical + digital, right?
The rear passengers get their luxuries from a dimmable glass panel in the roof above, speakers that can create listening zones for each occupant, and lamps in the C-pillars made from recycled iDrive knobs.
The automaker says it wants "to become the world’s most sustainable manufacturer in the individual premium mobility space." Right now it says the vehicles across its brands use 30% recycled materials on average, the goal is to up that to 50%. The road to achieving that will involve a range of Neue Klasse vehicles, which the Circular isn't, but which the Circular's materials and methods point the way to, so strap in because things are about to get ... phygital.
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