Though using 3D printing in the manufacture of automobiles is nothing new, the latest planned concept car from BMW is a very interesting prospect indeed. Maasaica was designed by Erik Melldahl to respond to the specific needs of communities living in emerging markets, who wish to separate themselves from the negative effects of the local booming economies. In countries such as China and India, greater industrialisation may have brought inflated wealth but also, it has brought toxic levels of pollution.
With this in mind, Melldahl wanted to create a vehicle that, rather than asking a developing nation’s people to adapt to its requirements and live with its effects, was instead manufactured to suit the country itself.
Locally built in The Serengeti, which stretches from North Tanzania to South West Kenya, from biodegradable materials using a mixture of 3D printing and traditional handcrafting, Maasaica is a cutting edge automobile with innovative eco-efficiency at its core.
As well as boasting a frame made of a composite of mushroom mycelium and grass that can be grown in just a few days, the Maasaica actually responds to the features of the African landscape. Since many parts of the continent suffer from drought, the car’s surface is a membrane that collects fog by night, which helps to cool the engine and collect water for local villagers. Meanwhile, during the day, its solar panels store energy from the baking heat.
BMW has licensed the blueprints, meaning buyers can share the vehicle with those in their village or community. It even leaves lion tracks in its wake, to maintain the concept of leaving as little human impact on its environment as possible.
At the heart of its Swedish designer’s philosophy was the iconography and traditions of the Maasai culture. As Melldahl explains:
The intention with Maasaica was to create a concept that will evoke questions about how to best design a sustainable, locally produced car. Another aim was to question the methods and ideas of the conservative automotive industry. While Maasaica doesn’t give all the answers, it is a step in the right direction. As designers we have a great opportunity to influence a product early in the process. However, one can also see it as we have a great responsibility to do our best to design products for a better society. That is what Maasaica is about. The name Maasaica comes from the Latin word for the lion species in Kenya, Panthera Leo Masaica.