Decoding Design

BMW shows off slick and efficient urban scooter prototype

BMW shows off slick and efficient urban scooter prototype

Posting in Cities

BMW's prototype for the C Evolution urban scooter has gotten much attention this week for its technical details. But its design details reveal innovation strategies, too.

This past week, BMW unveiled a "near-production prototype of an e-scooter" meant to perform as well as a comparable gas-fueled scooter. Reviewers have been focusing on its technical specifics (see this nicely detailed post from CNET's Wayne Cunningham) for good reason, and I'll leave the details of torque and other matters to the auto and motorcycle experts. But I think it's worth looking at the design background of the C Evolution, as it offers some interesting innovation strategies.

BMW Motorrad describes the C Evolution as a "future-oriented vehicle for commuting between the urban periphery and the city center," and the streamlined look of the scooter definitely has a futuristic, sophisticated feel (the BMW provenance doesn't hurt, of course).

  • The scooter's designers adapted research from BMW's auto engineers and designers. For instance, they implemented high-voltage safety standards of leading auto makers. BMW says these have been applied to an electrically powered two-wheel vehicle for the first time with the C Evolution.
  • The battery is placed in a low position, and this placement allows for a low center of gravity. This helps to allow for a sensation of "light handling" in city traffic.
  • The designers created an instrument panel with a very large display of speed, battery charge state, and energy balance. The panel was based on that of the BMW i3 car--again, a nice borrowing and adaptation of a proven design across BMW's divisions.
  • The energy balance visualization is depicted with a simple "progress bar," which tells the rider quickly whether energy is being used or recuperated, to prompt energy-efficient riding habits.
  • The designers kept the appearance C Evolution in line with the look of other BMW motorcycles, even though it's a new eco-friendly scooter: it has the signature BMW "split face" design as seen from the front.
  • According to BMW's press release, the designers added such metaphorical details such as a "boomerang-shaped, aerodynamically formed floating panel in the side trim" and a "short, sporty rear" to "[emphasize] the proactive character of the C evolution."
  • Yes, there is the obligatory appearance of the color green on the C Evolution, for obvious symbolic reasons. There's also an illuminated "e" on the side trim elements, to indicate that it's an electric scooter, of course. Is the combination of both of these design elements overkill, in terms of adding signs that the C Evolution is an environmentally friendly product? To some design critics, maybe; but honestly, in traffic, they're likely to be seen as a blur. A quick flash of green or an "e" on a moving vehicle that has plenty of other eye-catching design elements might prove to be a subtle, and possibly inspiring, sight.

Images: BMW

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Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure