Without a doubt this year’s IAA motor show in Munich is shaping up to be a defining year: one in which carmakers are introducing electric, zero-emissions concepts focussed on using sustainable materials like never before.

BMW’s conceptual offering embraces this paradigm perhaps more than most: dubbed the i Vision Circular, it is a compact electric vehicle that the German carmaker says is designed entirely around recycled and recyclable materials.

The concept is BMW’s stamp on a new push to claim a top spot in the ranks of sustainable automotive manufacturers, underpinned by EU regulations on CO2 emissions.

In a statement on Monday BMW said it is aiming for a 50% cut in CO2 “use-phase” emissions by 2030, a 40% reduction in life cycle CO2 emissions, and a 50% use of secondary materials such as recycled aluminium and steel.

By 2031, it plans to sell 10 million electric vehicles, doubling its previous target.

How companies are dealing with CO2 emissions has become a major factor when it comes to judging corporate action,” said BMW chair Oliver Zipse, ahead of the IAA .

The decisive factor in the fight against global warming is how strongly we can improve the carbon footprint of vehicles over their entire life span. This is why we are setting ourselves transparent and ambitious goals for the substantial reduction of CO2 emissions; these are validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative and will deliver an effective and measurable contribution.”


The i Vision Circular. Source: BMW

While we’ve seen recycled and sustainable materials before in EV models (VW’s ID Life introduced on Monday is another example), with the i Vision Circular BMW takes the concept of sustainable design one step further.

The result, it says, is a 100% recyclable vehicle, that includes a solid-state battery made ” almost entirely using materials sourced from the recycling loop.”

It’s a refreshing take: having rethought the whole vehicle life cycle, BMW says it has come up with a concept that rethinks whether a component is necessary before adding it. If it is, it has been integrated with quick-release buttons to ensure it can be replaced easily, and if it is not – in the bin it goes.

That means it has no superfluous chrome trims, and no bulky kidney bars at the front (a welcome departure for BMW which it saw fit to include even in the upcoming iX and iX3). While BMW’s iconic kidney design still features, it is in the form of digitally controlled lights that “communicate with the environment”.

For necessary features – door trims, and seating as an example – the quick release buttons mean that high-traffic components can be easily replaced.

The i Vision Circular. Source: BMW

This is a breath of fresh air that – if and when it becomes reality in a production vehicle – will greatly reduce consumption as people embrace replacing components rather than replacing entire vehicles simply because they are looking old and grubby.

In addition to using plenty of recycled materials, from plastic to aluminium to steel, BMW has also added some cool additions such as a steering wheel apparently 3D printed using wood particles.

Combining natural materials with a futuristic dashboard that appears to take the concept of “touchscreen” to a whole new level, the i Vision Circular is transformed into an intriguing approach to vehicle design and interfaces.

How some of these ideas will play out in a production vehicle will of course be proof in the pudding in so far as actual impact goes.

It’s one thing to design a concept that appeals to the eco-minded (and dare we say crystal-gazing types looking at the dash design), and another to see it roll off the factory floor en masse.

But with replaceable and digital components as a central design feature, the i Vision Circular also promises to appeal to wider audience that can theoretically customise their vehicles just easily as choosing a new wallpaper or cover for a smartphone.