BMW Introduces a Car That Changes Colors. Why?

The automaker's latest idea turns it into a perfect getaway car— or worse.

BMW going through changes


Years ago, my dream car was a BMW 2002. The vehicles have always been beautifully made and were lovely to drive. I was once at BMW's main Canadian warehouse and you could eat off the floors—everything was so beautifully maintained. But somewhere in the last decade or two, they have gone off the road into strange territory.

A black BMW blocking the sidewalk in Toronto
A BMW blocking the sidewalk in Toronto.

Lloyd Alter

Or perhaps it was because I started walking and biking instead of driving. Or that whenever there was a car blocking a sidewalk or crosswalk or going too fast through an intersection, it seemed it was more often than not a BMW. We have written about how they are raced down streets in Toronto where I live, recently killing two older people. We have written about studies that asked: Why do BMW and Audi owners often seem to drive like idiots? But we also wondered: Why do they design cars that encourage this behavior? We have reviewed the hybrid BMW that is an emotionally potent statement beyond all norms and conventions and another with paint so black that it's almost invisible.

If you look at the official feed of the World Bollard Association, the best thing on Twitter, you will find that BMWs are disproportionately represented, to the point that some think BMW stands for "Bollards Must Win." Others wonder, "Hear me out: maybe it is not the driver’s fault. Maybe there is some form of gravitational force that pulls the @BMW towards the bollard? I mean, have scientists really understood these events?" BMWs certainly appear to keep the bollards in business.

BMW is black
BMW's new color-changing vehicle in black.


And now we have the latest brainstorm from BMW: A car that changes colors, thanks to a skin of electrophoretic technology like that in an e-reader, and an electric field can send either the negatively charged white pigments or the positively charged black pigments to the surface.

 "This gives the driver the freedom to express different facets of their personality or even their enjoyment of change outwardly, and to redefine this each time they sit into their car," says Stella Clarke, Head of Project for the BMW iX Flow featuring E Ink. "Similar to fashion or the status ads on social media channels, the vehicle then becomes an expression of different moods and circumstances in daily life."

The press release notes there is also a functional use in that a white car is cooler in summer and turning black will absorb heat in winter. But there may also be opportunities for personality differences. A study done at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, found white cars were the safest and most visible while black cars were 10% more likely to have a crash. It may be like adjusting the seats according to driver size; they can now adjust the car's color according to personality, whether they want a calm, safe, and boring white, or an aggressive, manly black.

Dazzle Paint on Ship
Dazzle Paint on Ship, 1922.

Chiswick Chap / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

They might even do a mix like the dazzle paint used in the First World War to make ships invisible.

But the worst thing about a color-changing car is how it could be used to avoid being caught. The police might be looking for a black BMW while a white one cruises by. My wife was once a witness at the trial of a guy who hit a cyclist and one of the defense positions was that his car was grey, not silver as the victim claimed. A color-changing car isn't quite as bad as a number-changing license plate, but I wouldn't be surprised if someone is working on that.

BMW closeup


We see the same kind of marketing in big pickups, using words like dominant, powerful, aggressive. The people who get behind the wheel have bought into this. It's why people are calling for speed governors and advertising bans; it is a dangerous design that promotes aggressive driving. And now your car color can be as black as your mood.