The motorcar has come a long way over the past century. Much of the change has arrived in the past decade or so. A modern automobile comes bristling with computer chips and fancy software. Depending on the amount that you spend, you might find yourself benefitting from lane assist, adaptive cruise control, fully-features infotainment systems and massaging seats. There are also novel non-physical products and services, like GAP insurance and long-term leasing.
One often-overlooked area of progress is to be found in the colour a car is painted. Since Henry Ford’s famous remark that a customer could have a car in any colour they liked, so long as it was black, things have come a long way.
But now, for the first time, car-buyers don’t have to stick to a single choice when it comes to colour. In early January 2022, at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, BMW unveiled a car which could change colour, thanks to the same sort of technology found in e-readers. Tiny capsules embedded in the paint are charged or discharged, resulting in changes in colour.
As yet, the technology only allows for black and white, and shades in between. It’s also only to be found on a concept car – and it’s not yet available for public sale. There are also environmental concerns: in an age where manufacturers are striving to reduce the environmental cost of their machines, it might seem strange that a manufacturer might tend in this direction.
What’s the point?
There are a number of applications for a car with this capability. As well as providing aesthetic flexibility, it might allow for a car to be easily located in a crowded car park. You’d simply press the key and have the vehicle flash. You might also use the colours to display critical information on the outside of the vehicle. These might involve things like the tyre pressure or the battery charge level. In the case of taxis, colours could be used to make it obvious whether a given cab is accepting fares.
There’s also an opportunity for marketing messages to be displayed, in the form of scrolling phone numbers and other graphical elements.
If and when the technology becomes mainstream, it seems probable that regulators might step in to prevent a distracting driving environment from taking hold, with road users flashing advertising messages at one another.
The car generated a considerable buzz on social media, which is part of the purpose of designs of this sort. Whether it will find its way into the mainstream depends on several technical obstacles being overcome. The success of colour-changing light bulbs suggests that some customers are willing to pay a premium for this sort of functionality – whether the technology can be scaled and made financially viable is another matter.