Fiat may automatically switch hybrids to electric-only mode in city centers

Christine Fisher
Contributing Writer
Jeep Renegade 4xe

As cities plan zero-emissions zones and consider banning gas-powered cars altogether, automakers are looking for creative ways to make sure their customers aren’t left stranded. Fiat is now piloting tech that could allow its hybrid plug-in cars to automatically switch to electric-only mode when they enter congested city centers, Reuters reports.

The system uses onboard sensors that allow the car to recognize when it is entering a restricted traffic zone and turn off the combustion engine. In addition to reducing emissions in smoggy cities and preventing Fiat’s plug-in hybrids from being turned away from some cities, the hybrids would also be eligible for EV perks like dedicated parking spaces. 

Fiat Chrysler is expected to launch over 30 EVs and hybrids by 2022. Already, vehicles like the company's Pacfic Hybrid get around 33 miles on a full-charge, which in many cases, would be enough to navigate around a city. The vehicle would still have access to the combustion engine for longer trips outside of restricted zones.

Fiat isn’t the first to test this approach. BMW also considered an electric-only mode for its hybrids. That included a smartphone reminder to turn off a vehicle’s combustion engine when entering a virtual boundary.

Fiat is piloting its system in Turin, Italy, and it’s aptly called “Turin Geofencing Lab.” Initially, Fiat is testing the sensors on the new Jeep Renegade 4xe. The company told Reuters that the tech could be extended to other hybrid models beginning next year and that once the tests are complete, Fiat plans to offer the system in other cities in Italy and abroad.