Luxury Reloaded

Can waste be luxury? Of course, it can! That’s exactly what BMW is showing with its i Vision Circular. We spoke with Domagoj Dukec, Head of BMW Design, about the concept and what role aesthetics plays in sustainability.
Text Matthias Mederer
Photo BMW

Mr. Dukec, until now, the 7 Series has been the embodiment of luxury at BMW. With the i Vision Circular, you have given us a glimpse of the future. And to be honest, the future of luxury at BMW looks rather small.
That’s right. In fact, the footprint of this concept is just about four meters, roughly the size of a BMW i3. Thanks to the electric powertrain and the one-box design, however, the interior offers the same sense of space as in a 7 Series. We believe that in the future luxury will no longer be defined on the basis of old patterns such as size or price.

In today’s social media society, where image is everything, how do you avoid being overlooked in the truest sense of the word?
It’s all about the story. Until now, luxury has often been defined by price. If it costs a certain amount, then it’s luxury. Not everyone can afford it. In the future, the statement I make when I buy a certain product will be more important. It will no longer be about saying: “Look at what I can afford!” It will be: “Look, this product is valuable and sustainable. With this product, I’m treating myself to something nice and doing something good for the climate.” In the future, luxury will be much more than a purely material issue; it will become an ideological issue as well. And we must remember that what we see here is not the universal truth. It’s an approach, a vision that we have brought to life, and it has more depth than can be grasped from a cursory glance. You have to see the full story.

Can you tell us this story?
How far back can I go?

As far back as you like.
Okay. Then let’s start with cave paintings.

Like I said, you have to understand the whole story. Cave painting was the beginning of design. People made tools to create cultural assets, to illustrate their imagination. Before that, we were always just running for our lives. Painting the world around us gradually led to improvements. That’s important to understand. If we never go beyond the things we already know, if we constantly just go through the established routine, we stagnate. But we can no longer afford to do that now. To get ahead, we must think ahead, and that’s what we’re doing at BMW in the design and with this study. Again, what we see here is how we imagine the future could be, based entirely on four principles: rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle.

Not just a trend:

The sustainability thinking behind the i Vision Circular also has something to do with the scarcity of resources and the upward movement of raw material prices. That’s why the recycling concept for the design study has been radically and rigorously put in place. The steering wheel was 3D-printed using a special wood powder, and there are no screens or displays anywhere in the car.

One more thing taken from the recycling bin: The C-pillar reuses a glass iDrive Controller from a BMW iX as a lamp.

What exactly does that mean?
About a hundred million cars are produced in the world every year, with two-and-a-half million built at BMW alone. And here we are talking about sustainability while striving for commercial success. We need to realize what that means for our planet. This creates conflict. New solutions are needed. We used only secondary materials for this study, materials that have been recycled and reused. There’s no exterior paintwork. The bodywork is made of aluminum in the front with a golden bronze anodized finish. The surface of the rear is made from steel, heat-treated for a bluish purple color. We have largely refrained from using additive trim elements, for example to conceal unattractive structural parts. Instead, the structural parts are designed to be aesthetically pleasing in the first place. The windshield is also the instrument cluster, and the rear glass extends into and integrates the taillamps. From a technical standpoint, this allows us to eliminate a lot of material that would have been necessary in the past. And in the interior, we take this approach to the extreme.

"What we see here is how we imagine the future could be, based entirely on four principles: rethink, reduce, reuse and recycle."

How far can you go here today?
Nothing has been glued. Everything can be disassembled back into pure, circular material. That’s another point: Developing a car for the future doesn’t just mean looking to build the best possible vehicle under the given conditions, but also using a disassembly strategy that allows everything to be dismantled in a way that conserves resources.

What is circular material?
I like to use the aluminum can as an example. Here in Germany, we have a deposit-refund system for all types of drink containers. So customers return their cans to the deposit station, the cans are shredded and turned back into new cans. This is only possible because they are pure aluminum. By not gluing or mixing anything, we make sure that the material remains pure. We also use 3D printing, which allows us to produce parts without waste.

That’s sustainable, but not yet luxury.
True. And that’s where aesthetics come in. A product built with sustainable materials has to look cooler than one using ordinary materials. Clean, timeless, dynamic. That’s BMW. Which brings me back to the conflicts I mentioned earlier. As a designer, I like conflicts, because they give rise to new solutions. The Neue Klasse once combined dynamic performance and elegance, the Vision iNext stood for dynamic performance and efficiency – and now, with the i Vision Circular, we are merging sustainability with luxury.

Recycled luxury:

The deep-pile carpets and velvet-like upholstery in the cabin are made from one hundred percent recycled plastic. And like everything else about the car, the seats can be easily detached and disassembled, with fabrics held together by cords, buttons and quick-release fasteners instead of glue.

And the customer goes along with that?
We accumulated a lot of experience with the i3. Seventy percent of the buyers were new customers who would never have considered buying a BMW before. We also expect a certain “intellectual leadership” from our luxury customers. These are people who believe in responsibility, who make conscious decisions and who know what matters. One type of customer in the luxury segment in particular are the “social climbers” who define themselves through the status associated with a product. At the moment, we are observing a shift in society, as luxury customers are increasingly becoming “social drivers” who define themselves through their function as social role models, similar to what we have been observing in the fashion and furniture industries for some time now. Of course, the cycles there are different from those in the automotive industry.

Couldn’t we just do without cars?
No. And I don’t say that just because I work in the automobile industry, but also because we have had a lot of conversations and conducted a lot of research to figure out what the future of mobility will look like. What’s more, the i Vision Circular is not simply a study in its own right, but part of a mobility concept that comprises two other studies as well. One is the BMW Motorrad Vision AMBY, a two-wheeler that combines elements of a motorcycle with those of a regular bicycle. The other is the BMW Motorrad Concept CE 02, a lightweight electric motorcycle ideal for urban use. In summary, we can say that the car will continue to play a part in the future of mobility as well.

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