Can driving be fundamentally transformed? From air polluters, resource wasters and space hogs in the city to a form of sustainable mobility? “For us there is no premium without sustainability,” promises BMW boss Oliver Zipse. Without a tie (that alone is a revolution) he stands in the Munich exhibition hall and presents the “BMW Vision Circular”: a compact car in VW Polo format that looks like a futuristic BMW i3. The designers call this mono-volume when the car, like a small van, no longer has a bonnet or a protruding trunk. Such a “one-box design” is new for BMW. But the Mini Urbanaut study is more like a VW Bulli than a classic Mini.
At the IAA ten years ago, the first fully electric city runabout from BMW showed that it can offer a lot more space inside than a conventional car with a long combustion engine and an exhaust system that runs through the entire car. The new four-meter dwarf also looks generous on the inside – and takes some getting used to on the outside: With its flat front and rising wedge shape, the BMW study is a bit reminiscent of Tesla’s cyber truck. At the same time, the city car has soft, flowing contours on the sides that are reminiscent of classic sports cars. A hand flatterer who wants to be maximally aerodynamic.
As a pioneer of e-mobility, the i3 should not only drive emission-free, but also encourage a rethink in the automotive industry with its body made from sustainably produced carbon. But the high-strength black wonder yarn is difficult to recycle and is still far too expensive for automotive mass production. So now a new U-turn for more climate protection on the road: By 2030, BMW wants to reduce global CO2 emissions per vehicle by 40 percent over the entire life cycle. So it is not enough to produce the battery cells with green electricity; the entire previous supply chains up to the extraction of raw materials have to be re-established. A lot of work for a car manufacturer that has so far sworn its suppliers to quality, but above all to a low purchase price.
The climate killer chrome in the front has disappeared
Much is still under construction. It is not enough for tires to contain a little dandelion rubber or for several thousand tons of steel to be produced using green electricity. With the BMW i Vision Circular, the chrome climate killer has also disappeared from the kidney bars in the front. But that doesn’t mean the era of throwaway cars is over.
The management consultancy McKinsey expects that the future of the automotive industry in Europe will soon be largely electric: In 2030, the electric cars could achieve a market share of 75 percent of new registrations. By then, every fourth passenger car in the fleet – a total of more than 70 million vehicles – should have an electric drive. This would require 24 gigafactory battery factories in Europe, 15,000 new public charging points would have to be built every week – and the need for electricity from renewable energies will increase by five percent. But all of this is not enough if the metals, battery materials and much more are not used again and again in a circular economy.
Last year, BMW and a few other manufacturers involuntarily demonstrated that this cycle is only a rudimentary one. A thousand plug-in hybrids had to be recalled because of quality problems in the batteries. But the recycling capacities for so many energy storage systems were not yet available. So the batteries were first stored. It will be years before a high-performance recycling industry emerges from pilot plants. But then, it is hoped, most of the raw materials will be recoverable. By then, at the latest, the dispute as to whether electric cars are actually more environmentally friendly than models with a combustion engine will end.