BMW Considers Automatically Switching Hybrids to Electric-Only Mode in Heavily Polluted Cities

BMW wants to use its connectivity and navigation systems to determine if the car is in a polluted city area, and then switch to electric-only power.

BMW’s board member for development Klaus Fröhlich revealed at this week’s annual Los Angeles Auto Show that the carmaker is considering automatically forcing its hybrid cars to switch to an electric-only mode in heavily polluted city areas, Reuters reports

The announcement follows closely on the heels of Volkswagen’s 2015 diesel emissions scandal, which found the fellow German automaker breaking the law by fudging its pollution numbers. Car companies and governmental bodies across the globe have been actively legislating or at least publicly considering more thorough restrictions on vehicle emissions ever since, with BMW’s strategy here aiming at reducing its footprint in dense city sectors already suffering from heavy pollution. 

“The car switches off the combustion engine automatically,” said Fröhlich to Reuters, explaining that BMW’s hybrids would simply use their navigation and connectivity systems to locate the vehicle’s position and switch from combustion to electric-only, accordingly. Fröhlich added that BMW’s new X5 SUV, for instance, has an operating range of 50 miles (80km) in electric-only mode, which would essentially cover a fair deal of emissions-free ground. 

The automaker is reportedly showing this automatic switch-off technology to authorities in several German cities considering a ban on diesel cars, with the European Union’s clean air regulations serving as a fundamental incentive to do so. Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal has already moved major European cities such as London, Paris, and Stuttgart to actively ponder banning combustion engine vehicles entirely. 

In February, Germany’s highest administrative court issued a ruling that stated cities could rightfully ban diesel vehicles from some areas in order to combat pollution and improve the local air quality. Fröhlich said that BMW’s strategy could help pollution-plagued regions in Europe where most drivers don’t own more than one car, and the automatic switch to electric-only could drastically reduce emissions that would otherwise be expelled.