With the help of an automatic app feature, BMW thinks it can make plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) drivers use the electric features of their vehicle where it counts.

In an announcement published earlier today, BMW spoke of its new PHEV vehicle feature that will automatically switch the car to fully electric mode when it enters one of nearly 80 low emission zones in cities across Europe.

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It sounds like a painfully simple concept, and according to BMW it actually works. The system was developed by part of the BMW Group in Rotterdam.

A test-bed of 50 PHEV drivers were given GPS coordinates of predefined inner city areas via a special app that also connects to their car. When the feature is engaged, cars that entered these geo-fenced areas automatically switch over to fully electric mode. In other situations, drivers were prompted to switch to fully electric mode.

It seems to have worked, too. BMW says that after just a few months, 90% of all routes within the Rotterdam test zone were electric.

However, the whole thing does rely on having enough battery charge to drive in fully electric mode. Most BMW PHEVs have a real-world fully electric range of up to 60 miles (97 km); if driver’s keep their batteries topped up, they should have plenty of charge to drive around cities in fully electric mode, though. If not, the car will switch back to its internal combustion engine.

Electric incentives

What’s more, in a bid to get drivers to actually use the feature, BMW is launching an incentive scheme that runs alongside the app.

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EV, BMW, i4, tesla
Credit: BMW