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BMW Announces Compliance Plan for Clean Air Zones

William Drier
Jul 19, 2019

EVs 3

Cities and regions are looking for mechanisms to combat rising vehicle emissions and worsening ambient air quality issues. One of the policy tools governments have begun to implement is ambient air quality policies. The policies have many names and variations, such as Low Emissions Zones and Zero Emissions Zones, but they can all collectively be considered Clean Air Zones (CAZs). The purpose of CAZs is to restrict certain vehicles from operating in these zones, and thereby reduce vehicle emissions.

Most CAZs have been implemented in European cities but are difficult to group beyond confronting ambient air quality issues. Some of these policies are targeted bans only on certain diesel vehicles, while other zones are more ambitious and restrict all emitting vehicles. Some CAZs are active all the time, while others may be seasonal, weekly, or only during times of exceptionally poor air quality. While these policies can be an effective tool to reducing emissions enforcement can be difficult and a net loss of revenue for cities.

In June 2019, BMW announced it plans to include features in its plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) to improve CAZ attainment and compliance. Beginning in 2020, the automakers’ PHEVs will all come standard with technology to detect geofenced CAZs and automatically switch to all-electric mode and collect myBMW Points. This comes on the heels of a successful 2018 pilot project in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The Electric City Drive program used a cell phone app linked to participating vehicles that prompted drivers to switch to electric mode when entering the area. The program enabled BMW drivers to collect myBMW Points whenever using all-electric mode. These points are redeemable for free charging services and other services such as Share Now and Park Now. The pilot resulted in 90% driver compliance.

Hybrids in the Future of Electric Transportation

PHEVs will continue to be a part of automakers’ electrification strategies as they develop battery EVs and the supply chains needed to be cost-competitive with current vehicles. Navigant Research's report, Market Data: EV Market Forecasts, anticipates PHEV sales to have a compound annual growth rate of 17.9% between 2018 and 2030.

Currently, the number of CAZs is limited and mainly a European phenomenon, which minimizes the effectiveness in the short term until additional cities and regions implement such policies. However, this program will incentivize BMW PHEV drivers to use all-electric drive more often, which could go a long way in reducing emissions under the right circumstances. For example, the BMW 330e has an all-electric range of 22 miles, while the average daily vehicle miles traveled (VMTs) for someone in the US is 29 miles, which is a 76% reduction in fossil-fuel powered transportation. Workplace chargers could also be used to recharge and electrify the entire trip.

PHEVs—Part of the Puzzle

PHEVs will be part of the strategy in meeting both automakers and governments near-term targets for reduced emissions; however, more efforts like like myBMW Points are needed to increase electric drive awareness and behavior. An analysis of PHEV use by the California Air Resources Board found that roughly 40% of PHEV VMTs were electric (eVMTs). Zero-emission VMTs (zVMTs)—meaning VMTs accumulated without the start up of an engine—were even lower, between 10% and 25%. Results from this analysis also suggest that broader audiences may be less likely to prioritize eVMTs and zVMTs than earlier adopters, further driving the importance of education and incentives as adoption increases.