Plug-in hybrid BMW cars now have the green light to automatically switch over to EV-only mode in “low emissions” zones in 80 European cities.
Low emissions zones have been introduced in several European countries to tackle the damaging effects of air pollution from congested traffic powered by fossil fuels.
In particular, NOx and particulate pollution from diesel is known to have particularly damaging effects, and both pollutants have been linked to air quality-related deaths including stroke, heart disease, lung cancer and respiratory illness by the World Health Organisation.
While electric vehicles, which have zero tailpipe emissions, are clearly best equipped to deal with the issue of traffic-related pollution, plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) also have a part to play. But the issue is ensuring that they only use electric drive when in low emission zones.
Plug-in hybrids are able to be recharged at the socket to drive short distances on EV-only drive, but often cop criticism because drivers may not be vigilant in ensuring most of their driving is electric.
The new “BMW eDrive” digital service from the German carmaker will encourage BMW PHEV drivers to get the most out of their electric drives by rewarding them for using the automated system via a points system.
Points will be able to be used to redeem rewards such as free charging, says BMW, and while the points can be accrued outside low emissions zones, they will be doubled within the zones.
The system has been based on a pilot that was conducted in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. In the pilot, 50 PHEV drivers were asked to switch to EV-only driving within a defined city area. The pilot showed that 90% of the time, drivers complied with the request.
With the automated system, the PHEV vehicles will instead switch to EV-only driving automatically. There is one problem though: if the energy reserves in the battery deplete, the vehicle will automatically switch back to fossil fuels.
In most cases this should not be a problem as city trips typically involve a lot of stop-and-go driving which makes the most of regenerative braking, and the low speeds also result in lower energy consumption per kilometre.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.