Vehicles | August 30, 2019 7:00 am

BMW Painted a Car in Vantablack, One of the Darkest Man-Made Substances

The material sprayed across the new X6 absorbs 99% of light

Vantablack BMW X6
This is a 2020 BMW X6 in Vantablack. Oh, sorry, can you not see it? That's on purpose.

What absorbs 99 percent of light and can go from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds? That’s not a riddle. We’re talking about the new BMW X6, the first car to be painted using Vantablack.

You may have heard of Vantablack a few years ago. It’s a material invented by Surrey NanoSystems out of the U.K. that was introduced in 2014 and received the Guinness World Record for “darkest manmade substance” (it has since been supplanted, but not by a wide margin). As BMW notes, the original Vantablack can absorb “up to 99.965 [percent] of light, almost completely eliminating reflectance and stray light.” It’s technically not a color or a pigment, but millions of carbon nanotubes (or “vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays,” where “vanta” derives). 

The stunt, captured in the video below, is part of a promotional campaign for the third-generation BMW X6 which will debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show this September. While the one-off vehicle will be on display in Germany, the Vantablack color option won’t be available on the upcoming model. That doesn’t make the blackest car in the world any less compelling.

You see, Vantablack isn’t easily converted into a sprayable mixture. Surrey NanoSystems had to create a specific paint finish called VBX2 for this project, and this BMW X6 is the only vehicle in the world to use it. (A previous paint iteration called S-VIS was developed, but artist Anish Kapoor has exclusive rights.) 

Sure, the whole endeavor is based in contradiction. In the press release, BMW explains right off the bat that the Vantablack “highlights the expressive design language and confident, dominant and muscular appearance of the new BMW X6 to perfection.” But they go on to say the 99% light absorbing VBX2 makes “materials painted with it seem to lose their three-dimensional appearance.” In other words, they’re highlighting the intricate design by turning a complex 3D automobile into a 2D black hole? Sure.

The best thing about this whole scheme, though, is that on Surrey NanoSystems’ own FAQ page about Vantablack, they answer the question: Can I apply Vantablack to my car?

“Though this would undoubtedly result in an amazing looking motor, unfortunately the limitations of Vantablack in respect of direct impact or abrasion would make this an impractical proposition for most people. It would also be incredibly expensive.”

I guess money was no object for BMW.

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