BMW E Ink Gives New Meaning to "Throwing Shade"

BMW E Ink Gives New Meaning to "Throwing Shade"

New vehicle wrap technology could allow future BMW owners to change colors on a whim

  • BMW E Ink allows vehicle owners to change the color of a vehicle.
  • E Ink is not paint; it's a wrap composed of numerous ePaper panels.
  • There are practical applications beyond daily personalization.

According to BMW, "the color chosen for a car is an expression of the driver's personality." However, CarMax recently reported that most of the vehicles sold at its U.S. dealerships were black, white or shades of gray. Put 'em all together, and nearly 74% of the retailer's customers chose a color that's, umm, not really a color.

Now, we don't know what that says about Americans and their prevailing personalities. But it might help explain why BMW debuted its new E Ink color-changing technology with the ability to switch from black to white and every color of silver and gray in between.

What is BMW E Ink?

Introduced on a research and design vehicle called the BMW iX Flow, E Ink was one of several announcements made by the automaker at CES 2022 in Las Vegas. Essentially, E Ink is a wrap embedded with electrophoretic coloring technology. Color pigments embedded in the wrap react to the activation of an electrical stimulus, altering the appearance of whatever E Ink covers.

To introduce the technology, BMW wrapped the iX Flow's exterior bodywork with an E Ink treatment containing black and white color pigments. However, BMW spokesperson Phil Dilanni explained that "in theory, it would be possible to do the same in different colors." The automaker can also apply E Ink to interior components, giving vehicle owners a wide-ranging opportunity to personalize their car inside and out.

How does BMW E Ink work?

The way BMW explains it, E Ink's electrophoretic wrap contains millions of microcapsules about the thickness of a human hair. Each microcapsule contains negatively charged white and positively charged black pigments. BMW also embeds an electrical field into the wrap, delivering the electrical signals that bring different color pigments to the surface, changing the color. Once the desired color is active, E Ink draws no further current from the car's electrical system to maintain the chosen hue.

Numerous ePaper segments compose the wrap, each precisely fitted to the applicable surface. On the BMW iX Flow, the automaker had to tailor each ePaper piece specifically to the design of the SUV to properly reflect contours, light and shadows. Once BMW attaches all the pieces of ePaper to the surface and connects the embedded electrical field to a power supply, it warms and seals the wrap to the surface to ensure consistent color reproduction.

Naturally, we had questions:

  • Does E Ink only generate white, black and shades of gray?
  • What about cost? Both to apply and to repair in the event of a collision?
  • Are there vehicle recycling implications? For example, is the wrap recyclable, or does it need to be removed and disposed of at the end of a vehicle's lifecycle?

As reported above, BMW's Dilanni did say the technology is theoretically applicable to actual colors. As for the rest, he told Edmunds: "It's a bit early to answer questions about [the] potential cost, repair and recycling."

What are the benefits of BMW E Ink?

In addition to giving its customers control over how their BMW looks inside and out, E Ink has practical applications.

For example, dark-colored cars absorb more thermal heat than do light-colored cars. With E Ink, you could alter your BMW's color to white while driving in the blast furnace that is Phoenix in July or change to black when a cold front brings frigid arctic air into Chicago. This ability to alter exterior color is especially beneficial on an electric vehicle. The more thermal energy you can reflect on a summer day in Arizona, the easier it is for the climate system to cool the cabin and the more driving range you'll retain on a battery charge. Flip that script for winter days in the Great Lakes states.

Plausible deniability is another potential benefit of BMW E Ink. For example, when your spouse thinks they saw your black BMW iX parked at the valet stand at the Montage Laguna Beach in the middle of a workday, you can say: "Oh, no, that wasn't me. Today my Bimmer is Storm Bay Metallic. See?"

Edmunds says

While BMW E Ink is fascinating, don't look for this feature anytime soon. The cost to manufacture and apply this technology seems prohibitive to us, and with the majority of American car buyers preferring black, white and gray vehicles anyway, the data suggests that E Ink is a nonstarter.

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