At the Frankfurt Motor Show, BMW will introduce a special model based on the new X6 – the BMW VBX6 Vantablack. This exclusive show car is the result of a collaboration between BMW and Surrey NanoSystems, the inventors of the Vantablack technology.
BMW says that the X6 is the first and only vehicle in the world to feature a Vantablack VBx2 paint finish. “We turned down numerous requests from various automobile manufacturers in the past,” explains Ben Jensen, founder and Chief Technical Officer of Surrey NanoSystems.
“It took the BMW X6 and its unique, expressive design for us to entertain the idea.”
The company says that that the human eye perceives Vantablack as two-dimensional. A surface coated in Vantablack loses its defining features to the human eye, with objects appearing two-dimensional. This can be interpreted by the brain as staring into a hole or even a void, making Vantablack a rather unsuitable vehicle paint finish, as it blots out virtually all the design details and highlights.
For this reason, the BMW X6 was coated in the VBx2 variant initially developed for use in architectural and scientific applications. This coating can be sprayed on and has a one-per-cent total hemispherical reflectance (THR), meaning it is still considered “super black” while enabling a small amount of reflection from every angle.
Thus, materials painted with it seem to lose their three-dimensional appearance.
Vantablack is also named the “blackest black” and was developed for aerospace applications. The name Vantablack has already become synonymous with an entire range of extremely black coatings and paints such as VBx2. It contains an acronym of the technology enabling this superior black in its first two syllables, which stand for Vertically Aligned Nano Tube Array, a matrix made out of carbon.
Each of these carbon nanotubes has a length of 14 to 50 micrometers, with a diameter of 20 nanometers, making it around 5,000 times thinner than a human hair. As a result, around a billion of these vertically aligned carbon nanotubes fit into one square centimeter. Any light striking this surface is almost completely absorbed rather than reflected, and effectively converted into heat.
This technology was initially developed for coating space-borne components. As Vantablack can be applied at temperatures from as low as 430 degrees Celsius, it is suitable for delicate materials such as aluminum, and optical components coated in Vantablack enable observation of faint stars and distant galaxies that stray light from the sun makes difficult to detect. The first generation of Vantablack introduced by Surrey NanoSystems in 2014 absorbed up to 99.965 per cent of light, almost completely eliminating reflectance and stray light.
Hussein Al Attar, Creative Director Automotive Design at Designworks and the designer responsible for the new BMW X6, shared his thought on the BMW X6 Vantablack.
What does it mean to you that “your” BMW X6 is the first car in the world to have been chosen for such a project by the makers of Vantablack?
Al Attar: I first heard about Vantablack a few years ago – and I’ve been absolutely fascinated with the technology ever since. So, for me personally, this is a big deal. When my colleagues told me about a possible collaboration some months ago, I was very excited.
What makes the BMW X6 the perfect car for this project?
Al Attar: Internally, we often refer to the BMW X6 as “The Beast.” I think that says it all. The Vantablack VBx2 finish emphasizes this aspect and makes the BMW X6 look particularly menacing. Moreover, the BMW X6 has always been the most provocative and in-your-face model in our portfolio.
So why not emphasize this even further, with a finish that simply captivates the viewer’s attention? After all, that’s what the BMW X6 has always been about.
But a Vantablack finish makes objects appear two-dimensional. Doesn’t that render it supremely unsuitable as a car paint, especially for a car with a design as expressive as the BMW X6?
Al Attar: Yes, there is a certain inherent contradiction. But that’s exactly what makes this interesting and explains why the BMW X6 is the perfect car for this project. In addition, Vantablack VBx2 opens up new possibilities for us as designers. We often prefer to talk about silhouettes and proportions rather than surfaces and lines.
The Vantablack VBx2 coating foregrounds these fundamental aspects of automotive design, without any distraction from light and reflections. I am very proud of how beautiful the new BMW X6 has turned out, including its bold and expressive surfaces. But the most remarkable evolution over the predecessor concerns its proportions. And that is precisely what Vantablack underscores, albeit in a rather unexpected fashion
Hypothetically speaking, could you imagine Vantablack VBx2 becoming a regular paint finish option for people buying a car in the future?
Al Attar: Absolutely. BMW X6 drivers are among our most extrovert and frees-pirited customers. If anyone were to opt for a Vantablack paint option, it would definitely be a BMW X6 driver.