European auto-behemoth BMW recently announced that all of their new hybrid cars will automatically switch off their internal combustion engines (ICEs) upon entering specific polluted areas. After switching off their ICEs, the cars will engage a pure electric driving mode as a way to reduce vehicle emissions. This announcement comes at a tumultuous time for BMW. As we noted last week, Harald Krüger, Chief Executive, will not seek a second term as head of the company. The announcement was made following BMW issuing a profit warning to its shareholders in March and noting overall slow sales. BMW and other European automakers have been repeatedly criticized for choosing profit over the environment.
This latest move may be an attempt to pacify critics who wonder why automakers are not doing more to push more all-electric (EV) models onto the market. Despite recent increases in demand, EVs only accounted for 1.5% of global auto sales last year. Consumers have been scared away from all-electric vehicles because they have a limited operating range and charging stations are scarce. EVs also take time to charge, while their ICE counterparts can re-fuel in minutes. Cities concerned about pollution have failed to make investments in electric infrastructure, and automakers have been reluctant to pick up the slack. Hybrid vehicles are often seen as a good compromise for consumers who are concerned about the environment but also desire more range than most EVs can give.
BMW and the city of Rotterdam, Netherlands recently announced that they were teaming up to tackle pollution in inner cities. BMW released an option for its software that alerts drivers when they reach city centers, and requests that they switch to EV mode. The company has stated that it plans to roll out this program to other European cities later this year. “We want to present this interesting concept to mayors of other cities,” BMW Group Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Peter was recently quoted as saying. “Today it’s manual because there is no law in place 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. We believe it should serve as a model, since it intelligently addresses the problems in the urban areas.”
While some consumers may balk at the idea of their car being “hacked” in this manner, the technology to do so does exist. BMWs come with state-of-the-art navigation systems that require connectivity to a centralized network. If all goes according to plan, this network will soon control when cars are “allowed” to run on gas vs. electric. Privacy concerns notwithstanding, this technology could be a game-changer for major metropolitan cities struggling to cut pollution.
What do our readers think? Would you buy a car knowing that the car company could “hack” your car when you entered a certain area? Will this be an effective solution for fighting pollution in large cities? Please leave us your opinions in the comments section below.