BMW wants plug-in hybrids like its i8 to automatically switch from petrol to electric power in special E-zones. Picture: SUPPLIED
BMW wants plug-in hybrids like its i8 to automatically switch from petrol to electric power in special E-zones. Picture: SUPPLIED

There’s a small problem with BMW’s big idea to reduce CO² emissions in urban areas by automatically switching plug-in hybrids into the electric modes in “EV” zones in major cities.

There aren’t any.

Announced at the recent Next Gen BMW conference in Germany was a 2021 plan to automatically switch plug-in hybrids from petrol to electric power when they ran into geo-fenced zones.

“The problem is that we have no E-zones,” BMW’s director of development Klaus Frölich admitted.

“I am presenting that car to the cities and the regulators. It would give plug-in hybrid a real boost to have zero emissions in cities.

“If regulators don’t have Environmental or E-zones how do we push up the use of EV power in the plug-in hybrids?”

Plug-in hybrids, like BMW’s i8 sports car, have drawn flak from environmental groups in Europe for being granted the rights to drive in EV lanes and avoid congestion charges in places like London, but without running on their electric motors.

Frölich insists that will change as the electric range of plug-in hybrids — usually between 40km and 50km on the European test cycles — increases in real world conditions.

“The general trend to EV use in plug-in hybrids is going upwards,” he insisted.

“From the Generation Three to Generation Four battery with the bigger range, if the range reaches a certain level then the people find plug-in hybrid more interesting.

“When the range of the first gen was very low, the charging in China was very low, but it was good in Germany, because they (the drivers) felt they were pioneers.

“Now when they (plug-in hybrids) reach 80km we will have very high usage during the week. We think the sweet spot will be between 80 and 100km.”

Unlike the Volkswagen Group brands, BMW’s future doesn’t involve a dedicated electric-car platform or architecture, but a hybrid mechanical layout capable of using internal-combustion, hybrid or EV power.

While it has its compromises, Frölich insists its flexibility gives BMW an advantage.

“If someone or some market says they have to drive 100km with the EV mode we can do it,” he said.

“If you make more range it becomes more expensive because it is heavier and has more battery.”


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