BMW takes a game-based approach to sustainable mobility

When it comes to plug-in hybrids, BMW is not playing games—or maybe they are? To increase usage of its plug-in lineup electric mode to help both the environment and its bottom line, BMW is leveraging the practice of gamification to help increase electric-mode driving in their hybrid cars, the company stated Friday.

If you are not familiar with the term, gamification involves incorporating gaming elements, such as badges and points, into everyday processes, to make them more fun to do and encourage more folks to do them.


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Gamification has many advantages including boosting customer involvement, encouraging longer, more regular product usage. Generally, gamification can make mundane tasks, including driving a car, simply more fun to do. Who doesn’t want to have more fun?

Gamification is not all fun and games. There is great business value in delighting customers with fun alternatives or enhancements to undertake common tasks, which in turn, can help change long-standing habits and behaviors. After all, if you own an electric hybrid plug-in car, you might underutilize the benefits of electric mode, because you are simply not habituated to doing so.  

BMW wanted to find out how it could take a gamification approach to increase the electric mode in its plug-in vehicle lineup, which has the added the effect of improving the environment. They did so in collaboration with the City of Rotterdam, and with Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Together, they launched the pilot project “Electric City Drive” late last year.

The main question for the BMW Group and Erasmus University was: How can we get plug-in hybrid drivers to use electric mode more in the city? After all, the benefits to the environment and fuel efficiency are largely lost if customers are not going use electric mode.

Moreover, plug-in hybrids are an important bridging technology on the road to electromobility, which can benefit the entire planet. Plug-in hybrids enable drivers to alternate between fully-electric and conventional driving modes, according to their needs.

In short, electric mode is ideal for short distances, stop-and-go traffic and similar situations; it lowers fuel consumption and improves air quality. Regular charging can also be beneficial to the environment—especially if loads such as heating and air-conditioning systems can be primed before leaving during charging.

That is great, but you must get folks to play the game. To do that, the switching to electric mode needs to be interesting before it becomes habit.  That is where gamification can help.

For the purposes of the project, BMW provided an app using geofencing technology to encourage drivers to switch more often to electric mode. Customers who drove a BMW or MINI plug-in hybrid within a defined area of Rotterdam received a message on the infotainment display system, recommending that they switch to electric. According to BMW, drivers then earned a point for every kilometer driven on electric power within the project area.

According to BMW, participants were also able to collect points outside the defined inner-city area and earn additional points for every five kilometers driven in electric mode. Charging the vehicle battery was also rewarded.

Participants received a point for every 10% charging status. The points were not just a token for good environmental behavior, either – they could also be redeemed for attractive prizes.

However, points were not the only motivation, BMW pointed out. Drivers could also use the app to check how they stacked up against others or they could use it to compete in fun contests – for example, who could collect the most points in one day or who charged their battery more often than anyone else.

During the project, the BMW Group tested various incentives and rewards. This data was evaluated in conjunction with Erasmus University, which provided academic monitoring for the project.

Initial findings indicated that, regardless of the type of reward, participants drove around 90% of the distance they covered within the defined inner-city area on electric power. While they did not specify how much this represented an increase over normal usage, BMW believes the results could help optimize charging infrastructure in cities.

According to BMW, “Electric City Drive” has helped show that plug-in hybrid vehicles can help improve quality of life in cities and that the gamification approach can help change individual driving behavior. As result, BMW stated they will continue to evaluate the use of gamification and whatever else that can help increases acceptance of electric mobility. It would reason to us that when more folks choose electric mobility, it becomes a game where there are very few losers and many winners.

Matt De Reno is SAE MOBILUS web portal manager at SAE International. His interests include automated and connected vehicles, micromobility, smart cities, and automotive cybersecurity.