All the major automakers, particularly the European ones, are in a rush to get ready for an electrified future, retooling factories to produce a horde of electric (and electrified) vehicles. Turning over the vehicle fleet—converting it from internal combustion to electric—will consume a massive amount of energy and resources. Talking about a sustainable supply chain and end-of-life recyclability is not as flashy as talking about the coolest new hardware hitting show floors, but BMW is attempting to do both with its i Vision Circular concept car.
The bigger picture here is the total carbon footprint of a vehicle, and the i Vision Circular examines this problem in incredible detail. For example, there are no exterior badges, just a few laser-etched logos, which saves on the tooling and energy needed to produce such decor. If an etching does the same job, why go to the trouble of hitting up the supply chain for a piece of plastic coated in a chrome-look coating? Other examples include a minimal amount of glue, to make disassembly easier for eventual recycling, and interior lamps made out of repurposed parts from other BMW vehicles.
It’s almost like BMW channeled Colin Chapman’s famous eye for weight savings and applied it toward fearsome carbon reduction. The process BMW has employed in even conceiving of the vehicle concept is arguably more important than the angular, futuristic hatchback itself. It represents a process and a production system more than it does a vehicle. And that’s very cool, because even if the i Vision Circular’s more outrageous features (like the crystalline interface sprouting from the dash like some sort of protomolecule eruption ripped out of The Expanse) don’t make it to production, hopefully, the careful carbon footprint analysis will. And even more importantly, BMW has the muscle to make its suppliers toe the line as it seeks to reduce carbon emissions from vehicle production and suppliers by 40 percent.
Conceptual stuff out of the way, the actual i Vision Circular is an interesting little vehicle. It’s a squat, stocky thing with some pronounced angularity and cab-forward proportions. The sharply sloping windshield runs almost straight down to the proportionally massive kidney grille, a futuristic and unconventional take on the iconic BMW attribute, but better-integrated than in its current models.
Paint? There’s none. The aluminum bodywork is anodized, the steel rear portion is heat-treated until it turns blue, like exhaust headers. This makes it easier to recycle the bodywork once it’s time roaming our near-future urban megalopolises is over. If something can serve more than one purpose, it does. The windshield is the instrument cluster (it’s basically a big head-up display), the rear glass are the taillamps and turn signals, the window surrounds are strips of digital screens, touch-sensitive to enable entry.
Components are pared down to a minimum and easily removable for future recycling. Each door contains a single integrated electronic module that is both a window switch and motor, removable as a module. A special tool should remove almost all the sparse fasteners in the vehicle, allowing easy and rapid disassembly. Anything not attached with a fastener can be easily removed otherwise, like the recycled plastic upholstery which is held onto the seat frames with a simple cord system. Cut or untie it, and it just comes off.
Just as the vehicle itself is designed to be 100 percent recyclable, the i Vision Circular aims to use nearly 100 percent recycled components in its production. That includes the solid-state battery, which BMW says can be completely recycled and mainly uses recycled elements. The lounge-like interior is upholstered in recycled PET, the steering wheel is 3D-printed out of wood dust or other bio-materials.
As an idea, the i Vision Circular is compelling, and it represents a hopeful vision about how vehicle production may be less of a burden in terms of carbon output. BMW’s now on the record for carefully considering the darker side of the vehicles it makes, and it’s up to us to hold BMW to the future that a concept like the i Vision Circular promises.
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