Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) let drivers alternate between fully electric and conventional internal combustion driving according to their needs. Electric mode is ideal for short distances, stop-and-go traffic, and similar situations. It lowers fuel consumption and improves air quality.
To boost electromobility—the use of electric drives—in its plug-in hybrids, BMW developed a geofencing technology app that employs GPS to encourage drivers to switch more often to electric mode.
In operation, as soon as a BMW plug-in hybrid with the activated service drives into a low-emission zone, or similar inner-city area designated as an eDrive low-emission zone, it triggers an automatic change to the purely electric operating mode without driver intervention. When the service is activated, each available eDrive Zone on the navigation map is graphically highlighted in the Control Display.
The vehicle drives in electric mode for as long as the battery's state of charge permits. If the battery's energy reserves run out within this area, the system switches back to the combustion engine and advises the driver via a signal in the vehicle’s control display.
Development of BMW eDrive Zones was based on a BMW Group pilot project conducted with the City of Rotterdam in The Netherlands and Erasmus University, also based in Rotterdam. Erasmus provided academic monitoring for the project and helped to evaluate the data.
The goal was to get plug-in hybrid drivers to ramp-up use of electric mode in the city. Some 50 plug-in hybrid drivers from the Rotterdam area volunteered to test the specially developed app. Once installed on the smartphone and synced with the vehicle, whenever the car drove into the eDrive Zone in the Rotterdam city center, a corresponding message was displayed on the infotainment display system screen—it requests to switch the drive system to fully electric mode. Over a period of three months, the project monitored the extent to which participants’ pure electric driving increased as a result of this message.
Alongside the BMW eDrive Zones function, the BMW Group developed a digital service called BMW Points to further encourage electric driving among its plug-in hybrid customers. Points are awarded for every kilometer driven on electric power, with a bonus in designated eDrive Zones. BMW Points can also be earned by charging the high-voltage battery; participants received a point for every 10% charging status. Once enough points have been accumulated, participants can redeem them for rewards. The BMW Points digital service will be available for BMW plug-in hybrid vehicles through the BMW Connected Drive App Store this year.
Users also are able to see how they stacked up against others in the project and take part in contests to earn additional points. Examples include the person who collects the most points in one day, or who charges their battery more often than anyone else.
In addition to reducing emissions, increasing the share of electric driving in a hybrid vehicle also contributes to reduced operating costs for the driver. A purely electric trip results in significantly lower energy costs than using the combustion engine, as can be shown by comparative calculations for current plug-in hybrid models. This applies particularly to city traffic, where electric power consistently achieves a higher level of efficiency than a gasoline or diesel engine.
eDrive zoning has already shown that plug-in hybrid vehicles can help improve quality of life in cities and change individual driving behavior for the better. The pilot project demonstrated that PHEV drivers used pure electric mode for over 90% of the distance they drove within the Rotterdam eDrive Zone (regardless of the reward), once they had connected the app to the vehicle.
The BMW service is now available in nearly 80 European cities (58 cities and regions in Germany have already defined a low-emission zone, as well as 20 other core areas in major cities in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland). The list will be expanded in the future to include additional countries and cities, so that the electric driving shares of plug-in hybrid models can be increased in a steadily growing number of city areas.
BMW’s eDrive Zones service is now available in plug-in-hybrid models BMW 745e, BMW X5 xDrive45e, and BMW 330e. The company reports that further eDrive Zones, myBMW Points, and applicable BMW models are to follow.