When you've survived to age 100, it's time for a party, and while it'd be easy enough to kick back and let a century's worth of accomplishments tell the story, BMW's taking this time to look forward. Today, in Munich, the company celebrates its centenary, and it does so by unveiling a concept for the next century of motoring.
Called Vision Next 100, in many respects it's surprisingly familiar to the products the company delivers today. However, in many other ways, it's...a little bit out there.
It is, at least from the outside, a vaguely traditional looking thing, with four wheels and four doors providing access to four futuristic looking seats. In other words, it's still very much a car. But a car with a split personality, two driving modes that radically transform the experience and reflect BMW's solution for what will likely be a somewhat disjointed future.
The first mode is called "Boost" and it's the most similar to what we have today. In this mode, the car is still piloted by a human occupant, via a comfortably familiar, if slender, steering wheel.
However, toggle the car into "Ease" mode and things get a little more interesting. The steering wheel retracts and the dash reconfigures, not unlike thethat gave us some things to think about in LA last year. The front seats also move, tilting slightly together, easing conversation between occupants -- but also potentially opening the door to some epic nausea when the road gets twisty.
But that's just the beginning of a transformation that impacts nearly every aspect of the car, including the exterior lighting, which shifts its hue to reflect the car's current mode.
The entire windscreen is a heads-up display. In Boost mode, it projects the proper driving line through turns, highlighting other cars along with hazards and of course giving navigation information. Switch into Ease mode and it turns into a sort of tour guide, visually highlighting local attractions and, presumably, popping up recommendations based on some future equivalent of Yelp.
There's also a thing called The Companion, a large gemstone-like object set within the dashboard that projects through the windscreen. This is a visual representation of the AI within the car, which works to learn the driver's habits and needs, details BMW is a little vague about but presumably goes beyond the sort of predictive navigation suggestions we see from Android Auto and Apple CarPlay today.
The Companion, too, reacts to the drive mode, sitting flush in Boost mode, or popping up in Ease, interacting with the driver and passengers -- and even pedestrians, blinking at them to let them know they've been recognized.
Construction, too, is progressive, what BMW is calling "4D printing." The basic idea is that the car is not only made of components that come from today's additive manufacturing processes and 3D printers, but that those components are fully functional when printed. In other words, the car would effectively arise from raw materials. It also features flexible panels that cover the wheels, providing extremely good aerodynamics.
The big question, of course, is exactly what's driving the thing. There has been no mention of powertrain at all, except that the car will be "emissions-free." So, presumably electric, but whether those electrons come from batteries of hydrogen fuel cells remains to be seen.
BMW Vision Next 100 is a flight of fancy, a fascinating one, but something not destined for production in any shape or form. Yes, we may see some of these lines appearing in future cars and, indeed, the car's accompanying press release promises that it "remains a genuine BMW" delivering "sheer driving pleasure."
Whatever your thoughts on the styling -- or the multi-faceted AI companion chilling in the dash -- it is at least good to know that BMW thinks we'll still be able to drive our cars in the future.