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Friday Mailbag: The BMW i Vision Dee Doomsday edition

You’re all getting quick on these BMW future concepts – today we’ll talk about the BMW i Vision Dee, and what the hell BMW is doing.

Have questions? Send ’em on over!

Question

Mike, I saw the BMW i Vision Dee and immediately wanted to know your thoughts on it. Probably snarky? BMW seems to be going in a million directions lately (your M3’s nose is a perfect example, no offense). Will the brand even survive the next 10 years?

– Andy

bmw-i-vision-dee
The simplistic look is meant to keep the focus on all the tech. Photo: BMW.

Answer

You guys were going to get a supercharged V-8 question, but I received this one late Thursday, and M3 jab not withstanding, thought it was an important one to answer.

Andy, BMW isn’t going to die. They are simply hedging their bets about what drivers will want in the future. All the auto makers are doing it. But BMW’s problem is perhaps a unique one: it’s cool.

Cool kids

BMWs are cool (mostly). It’s really hard to attain that status, ask most teenagers. Many brands aren’t really perceived that way (the only cool Toyota not named GR86 is made by BMW). Now that they’ve achieved this, BMW is afriad to mess it up. They’ve got to stay relevant.

Young and hip are better than old and stodgy, so they can’t just churn out 3 Series after 3 Series and be happy – BMW must anticipate what the market will want. And the market has spoken; it’s technology. The BMW i Vision Dee is meant to showcase their tech acumen in new ways. Taken on its own, the car has some interesting features.

But none involve actually driving the car.

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Nothing wrong with trying new things, I suppose. Photo: BMW.

The car as a computer

I was driving with my wife the other day, and we were reminiscing about MapQuest. If you’re not old enough to remember, before GPS became a thing we’d hop onto the internet, print out directions from MapQuest, and read them as we went along our route. Yes, I am getting old.

GPS makes things much easier. It’s literally impossible to get lost now. Other tech features like a HUD, Apple CarPlay and Park Distance Control also make driving less stressful. But at the end of the day, you’ve still gotta drive the car. That means putting all the toys away. And this car has a lot of toys.

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I think you can get an idea of the demographic from this avatar. Photo: BMW.

What’s the BMW i Vision Dee?

The biggest thing on this little sedan is its E Ink exterior panels. Your car can be one of 32 color shades, and it can even combine them for a particularly gnarly look. I can see the appeal, but I will also ask you how many times you change the interior ambient lights in your current car. If the answer is “not often”, or “never”, well, prepare for the novelty here to wear off fast.

Dee stands for “Digital Emotional Experience”, and the grille can change shape and make expressions at you. I wish I were making that up. There’s also an avatar you can choose that will appear in the driver’s window as you walk up to it.

The other big thing, and one that has a good chance of making it to production, is a giant HUD that spans the entire windshield for a true “virtual” experience. Think Iron Man’s interface inside his helmet. Distraction doesn’t even begin to explain what this might be like, and you know how I feel about that.

Tech companies are like casinos; they want to keep you inside the building, so they kill all the windows. Who needs to go to a football game, or see the Empire State Building, when you can just don a Facebook headset and go there on your couch? Who needs to go outside, you have everything you need virtually.

Well, I do.

The BMW i Vision Dee seems like it’s made to let you play with it parked in the driveway. Probably be more fun than driving it.

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Buttons are better. Here, the buttons go away, and info moves to the windshield. Hello, Jarvis. Photo: BMW.

Soul Score: 0

Machines With Souls. It’s in the masthead. I know when a car is trying to make a connection with me. Happens all the time. My 3000GT left me stranded at 1AM on the Garden State Parkway. My Nissan Z once saved my life at the drag strip. And my 328i brought my daughter home from the hospital. Even press cars offer moments of bonding. These machines made me feel things because of how they drove, yes, but also the experiences I had with them.

I do not need a brand telling me that a car loves me. Or hates me, in the Stinger’s case.

BMW lives dangerously. They don’t have a giant cushion to fall back on, like Audi with Volkswagen. Mercedes actually is the cushion. BMW is different. MINI is dying. Rolls Royce is just sort of trudging along to its own tune, and there are no other ventures for the brand. As car companies become more like tech companies, you’ll find some start to fade away if they can’t keep up.

The Ultimate Driving Machine tagline has been their mark for 40 years, and they are stuck with it. Cars like the BMW i Vision Dee are meant to branch away from that core ethos, just in case driving becomes boring. If anything is in danger of dying Andy, it’s products related to that tag line.

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I use Nikon camera bodies and lenses, a Westcott Ice Light 2, Manfrotto tripod, B + W filters and an iMac Pro to make the art you see here.

Email me at mike@machineswithsouls.com with any questions. Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

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