BMW C 1 CityScooter

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

story by Mark Hammond, Managing Editor , Photograph by BMW AG , Created Apr. 24, 1999
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It looks like something designed for, and rejected from, the movie The Fifth Element, not something visualized and manufactured by corporate and conservative Bavarian Motor Works.

Initially, we thought BMW's new C 1 future scooter was no more than an attention seeking prototype, the motorcycling equivalent of a fashion designer wrapping Claudia Schiffer in saran wrap and calling it a dress. Maybe an over the top gimmick calculated to blast through the hyped-up, crowded clutter of motorcycle shows. Although BMW presented the C 1 concept in 1992 at the IMFA in Cologne, few paid any attention as it was dismissed by some as yet other silly looking futuristic prototype never to see the light of day -- particularly in the U.S., where scooters are situated only a tiny link higher than golf carts on the transportation food chain. However, BMW has never been known for its whimsical, silly sense of humor. So it should come as no surprise that the C 1 is scheduled to enter production in late 1999 and grace showroom floors in Europe in the Spring of 2000.

BMW has never been known for its whimsical, silly sense of humor.


The C 1 will be built in Italy by Bertone Carrozzeria, a specialty manufacturer, but BMW claims credit for the C 1 concept and design -- something the Italians probably don't mind. What the hell are you supposed to call this thing? BMW's press kits suggests calling it an "Urban Personal Commuter," a CityMobile or a MotoMobile. A German car magazine labeled it a "Car Scooter." Whatever the Europeans decide on, you can bet that if one ever washed up on American shores, it will be known simply as "that goofy looking scooter thing."

 BMW has a clear vision of the potential target purchasers for the C 1. And, go figure, Americans are not included.

The C 1 is an attempt to combine the advantages of a two-wheeled motorized transportation with the strengths of the automobile. According to BMW design briefs, the C 1 will offer weather protection and safety comparable to that enjoyed by cars without foregoing the pleasure of riding a motorized two wheeler. The C 1 does look to be light and agile, measuring a little more than six feet in length and weighing 375 pounds dry. It will guzzle about a gallon of gas every 80 miles or so, and BMW promises it to be cheap in terms of retail price, tax, insurance and service. Also, because of its 125cc displacement and 15 bhp output, the C 1 will avoid the myriad of rules, regulations and restrictions thrown up by the European Union, and potential consumers will be able to qualify for the C 1 without taking any additional tests.  

The C 1's most innovative design feature is its emphasis on safety. It will be the first two wheeler in the world to offer a high standard of passive safety. BMW claims its crash tests have showed that in a head on collision the C 1 offers a standard of accident protection comparable to modern small cars. The C 1's unique safety concept hinges on the vehicle's chassis set in an aluminum spaceframe configuration with bars welded to one another at specific connection points and, along with a double rollbar, protecting the rider in a surrounding safety cell. The frame and suspension configuration will help ensure a specific, staggered absorption of energy in the event of a head on collision, much like with today's modern cars. The C 1 will also offer a crosswise seat belt system consisting of one two-point and one three-point safety belt. BMW claims this combination of safety cell and seat belts will eliminate the need for helmets, and is currently pushing to exempt the C 1 from helmet laws. A feature planned, but not yet feasible, is an airbag.  

Whatever the Europeans decide on, you can bet that if one ever washed up on American shores, it will be known simply as "that goofy looking scooter thing."  

Other C 1 features include a full size wind screen and windshield wiper. The rear subframe can double as a luggage rack or as a rumble seat for a passenger -- although the passenger, exposed to the wind, elements and concrete will have to wear a helmet and protective clothing. Optional equipment will include ABS, heated handlebars and seat, a radio and CD player, navigation system, mobile phone holder and an anti-theft warning unit. Unfortunately, BMW has forgotten the cup holder.   BMW has a clear vision of the potential target purchasers for the C 1. And, go figure, Americans are not included.

BMW will market their new vehicle to riders of scooters and small motorcycles who place great importance on wind and weather protection and a high level of personal safety; riders who appreciate the practical benefits of two wheeled motorized transportation but who are afraid of the risks; and those who, for ecological and economic reasons, do not want to purchase another car. In fact, the centerpiece strategy in BMW's marketing plan is to push the environmental benefits of the C 1.  

 Sacrifice for the sake of the planet -- which receives a lukewarm reception in the U.S., a country where a sizable percentage of the voting population believes that separating aluminum and plastic into recycling bins is part of a neo-bolshevik subversive plot to establish a one-world government -- will appeal to the Green crowd, those ecologically concerned Europeans.

Most governments, even the foot-dragging U.S., will feel pressure to pass strict, maybe even draconian, emissions laws, regulations and taxes.

With El Nino and global warming threatening to create planetary mayhem, most industrialized nations, except the petro-addicted United States, are currently pushing for stricter and stricter emissions regulations. And with the geometric increase in the industrialization of China, plus their 25 percent of the world's population, doomsayers and eco-fascists are whipping themselves up into an ecstatic, Malthusian frenzy. Most governments, even the foot-dragging U.S., will feel pressure to pass strict, maybe even draconian, emissions laws, regulations and taxes.

Since owning a car is as necessary to survival in the U.S. as electricity, and since most Americans consider motorcycles to be toys, some of the first casualties in the war on internal-combustion engines may be larger displacement motorcycles and their horsepower producing, emissions spewing aftermarket jet kits and pipes. With the C 1's early 2000 debut, it's clear that BMW plans to capitalize on next-century environmental consciousness. Wonderful -- a future of 15 bhp scooters with windshield wipers and airbags. Yet another reason to fear the new millennium.



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