The third-generation BMW X6, which features a combined fuel consumption of 10.7–6.1 l/100 km and CO2 emissions of 243–159 g/km, is set to premiere at the Frankfurt Motor Show. At the event, BMW will also present a unique one-off vehicle with a Vantablack VBx2 nanostructure paint finish. This exclusive show car is the result of a collaboration between BMW and Surrey NanoSystems, the inventor of the Vantablack technology.

The BMW 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,” explained 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.” With design highlights like the optional Iconic Glow kidney grille, distinctive twin headlights, and striking taillights, the new BMW X6 provides contrasts to offset the Vantablack VBx2 paint finish, which is intended to change the viewer’s visual perception of an object’s three-dimensional shape.

A surface coated in Vantablack reportedly 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 because 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 1% 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—as demonstrated on the BMW X6.

The name Vantablack has become synonymous with a 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 µm, with a diameter of 20 nm, making it around 5000 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°C, 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% of light, almost completely eliminating reflectance and stray light.

Because of this property, Vantablack already has an important role in advanced automotive technology, revealed Jensen. He said, “The material is now being used more and more in various types of laser-based sensor equipment for driver-assistance systems and technologies for autonomous driving, for instance. That is because incident sunlight can cause a degradation of performance in these systems as well. A Vantablack coating eliminates these issues and results in increased safety.”