In order to avoid EU fines, BMW is relying on its growing lineup of plug-in hybrid models to help cut its fleet CO2 emissions across the continent.
Yet, PHEVs have faced criticism over the fact that even though they can be driven in purely electrical modes, most are not designed with that specific task in mind. The solution? BMW’s Electric City Drive plan. It encourages PHEVs drivers to switch off the combustion engine and use just battery power when in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Participants in this program earn points for each kilometer driven electrically and can even compete with each other for rewards. While incentives tested by BMW did include cash, the Bavarian automaker found that by simply creating competition, overall awareness received a boost.
“We believe it should serve as a model, since it intelligently addresses the problems in the urban areas,” said BMW CFO Nicolas Peter in an interview with Autonews Europe. “We want to present this interesting concept to mayors of other cities.”
According to BMW’s studies, plug-in hybrids with a range of at least 60 km (37 miles) are driven just as far in electric mode as fully-electric vehicles, making them a great choice for commuters who fear that combustion engine cars could be banned in cities, yet can only afford to own one car.
So what’s the problem? Well, many PHEVs were purchased as corporate cars aided by generous tax incentives. However, since those cars typically have their fuel costs covered within the fleet, drivers simply didn’t recharge them enough. It’s why the Dutch government lowered incentives for PHEVs, causing sales to fall from an EU-best 40,000 in 2015 to just 1,150 in 2017.
“The image of plug-in hybrids hasn’t been that great in the past,” stated a BMW insider. “It benefits us if we can find out how to change that, how to prove they can be used the right way.”
Cars participating in the Rotterdam project feature a GPS-linked powertrain. As soon as the system recognizes that the vehicle has entered a predefined area like the city center, it prompts the driver to switch to EV-mode.
“Today it’s manual because there is no law in place,” added the automaker’s CFO. “But in the future it could be done automatically via software. That means as soon as you drive into the city, it switches over to electric and it cannot be switched back as long as you are downtown.”