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BMW’s E Ink System Could Let You “Express Yourself By Changing the Color of Your Car”


Choosing the right color for your car can be a challenging, even an emotional proposition. And what you pick when you’re at the dealer may not feel right later on. But what if you could choose a different color every time you get into your vehicle, whether somber gray, moody black, or sporty red?

BMW i Vision Dee in yellow at CES
BMW’s Stella Clarke shows off the E Ink capability of the i Vision Dee at CES 2023.

BMW is demonstrating just that possibility at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in the form of a technology dubbed “E Ink.” Wrapped around the futuristic i Vision Dee concept car, it can instantly shift among nearly three dozen different colors, and even permit a motorist to pick one color for the roof, another for the hood, while opting for still more hues on different parts of the vehicle’s body.

“Color is not just color. It is emotional,” said Stella Clarke, the BMW engineer leading the development of the E Ink process as she introduced “the world’s first color-changing car.”

From Kindle to car

The basic technology is not all that new, though it’s never been used for vehicle applications before. Millions of folks have experienced E Ink in devices like Amazon’s Kindle reader. Also known as “electronic ink” or “electronic paper,” it uses microcapsules barely as thick as a human hair containing various shades of ink. Each has a different electrical charge so when specific currents are applied to the microcapsules, specific colors rise to the surface.

BMW iX Flow E Ink pattern
BMW’s E Ink made its debut last year at CES, but in just black-and-white patterns in addition to a solid color.

As with devices like the Kindle, BMW initially showed off E Ink capable of flip-flopping between black and white with the iX Flow concept vehicle unveiled at the 2022 Consumer Electronics Show. It’s spent the last year working to find a way to use the more complex version of E Ink on a vehicle. And it’s making its debut on i Vision Dee.

“She” is a showcase of technologies, including fully autonomous driving, virtual reality displays and an AI-powered, wisecracking voice assistant formally known as the Digital Emotional Experience — or Dee, for short.

And along with Clarke, Dee helped narrate the debut of the colorized E Ink system during a BMW keynote at CES 2023.

An automotive chameleon

The colors can change all but instantaneously, as the concept sedan dizzyingly displayed. All told, the current version of E Ink can handle about 32 different colors and the wrap BMW used for the i Vision Dee was divided into 240 different segments.

Even the car’s aerodynamic hubcaps used the E Ink material, spinning out different colors like a high-tech roulette wheel.

BMW E Ink multicolor i Vision Dee at CES 2023
E Ink can instantly shift among nearly three dozen different colors, and even permit a motorist to pick one color for the roof, another for the hood, as shown here.

Who’s on first?

Whether BMW can truly claim to have introduced the world’s first color-changing car could be open to debate. A day before its keynote presentation, Volkswagen showed off a prototype of its new ID.7 battery-electric vehicle at CES, and it used a high-tech camouflage to disguise some of the sedan’s final design details.

That camo was actually a 40-layer electroluminescent paint that allowed the automaker to individually light up 22 different areas around the body in different colors and patterns.

But the ID.7 system is unlikely to reach production, if for no other reason than it consumes a significant amount of energy to operate — not something that would make sense on an EV since it would reduce range.

Production challenges

VW ID7 Prototype - parked outdoors rear 3-4
BMW can’t lay claim to being the first to having color changing capability as VW used on its ID.7 concept.

As Kindle owners know, E Ink “is very, very low energy,” Clarke told during a background briefing on the technology late last year. “It needs energy only to change color,” she added, and the new hue remains even when you power the vehicle down.

That doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to go to your nearest BMW showroom and order a vehicle wrapped in E Ink anytime soon. While E Ink is widely used in readers and other devices, it’s still in an early development stage for vehicle application, just like the other technologies found on the i Vision Dee.

A new version would have to be developed that could smoothly cover a vehicle. Right now, the material is a challenge to work with when fitting it over the creases and curves of a modern vehicle. And it would need to be sturdier than today’s E Ink material. Get a ding or scratch and you’d have to replace an entire panel.

And the technology won’t come cheap, though BMW officials declined to put a price tag on a vehicle covered in E Ink.

Still, Clarke said “it’s very possible” a production version eventually could be offered, something that would provide you the opportunity “to express yourself by changing the color of your car.”


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