Prince made the case for a little red Corvette, but how about a plaid BMW? The latest concept car from the German automaker is bringing this previously unimaginable colour scheme to life.
The BMW i Vision Dee is a color-changing chameleon of a car, with 240 e-ink powered body panels and hub caps that can display a range of shades and patterns made up of 32 different colours. Individually programmable and customizable, the car’s body is capable of taking on millions of potential colour schemes.
Driven out onto the stage at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, the car first appeared bone white. Then, a cavalcade of colours washed over its exterior surfaces, turning the entire car yellow then purple then gray, shades flickering over the segmented body in solid washes and patterns like a checkerboard or Scottish tartan.
“Colour is something very, very emotional, and we are constantly looking to strengthen the emotional connection that our customers have to our products,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, global head of BMW Group Design.
The outward expression of cars is undergoing a dramatic change at the moment. New technologies enabling previously utilitarian car elements like body panels and headlights take on more adventurous designs and communication technology. LEDs, electric vehicles, and autonomous models are ushering in the golden age of headlight design, and technologies like e-ink are making the idea of a single-tone car, even a red Corvette, seem very old-fashioned.
Requiring little energy, e-ink is perhaps most familiar to consumers as the key technology on e-readers like the Kindle. Van Hooydonk says it’s a natural add-on for an all-electric vehicle, offering design flair without draining the battery. “All the fun things that you do come from that battery, so you want to be very aware of how much energy your entertainment system or other functions like this will take,” he says.
Adding a 32-colour spectrum to the mix is as much a reflection of advancing technology as a wager on the value consumers will place on that customization. BMW’s concept is a long way from hitting dealerships or the streets, but these customizable ideas are beginning to take shape in some production vehicles. Audi, for example, has cars with programmable brake lights, allowing users to select from several display shapes. Recolouring the car on a whim, though, opens far more creative possibilities.
As a concept, BMW’s i Vision Dee is a step change for the brand, which unveiled an e-ink concept car at the 2022 CES that could change its exterior colour from white to gray to black. Both iterations suggest that the era of car customization is coming, but for now, this is a distant prospect. BMW’s engineers are still working out how these color-changing panels can withstand the rigors of driving in real-world conditions, with all the bumps and pebbles and bugs a car encounters on a typical drive.
Van Hooydonk says that like headlights, the technology is advancing at a pace that means this seemingly futuristic feature could be flickering on EVs before too long now. “We will see in the very near future how customers can make the expression of the car their own through this kind of digital technology,” van Hooydonk says.
By NATE BERG