Autolib – Paris launches self-service electric car

The Autolib’ venture set up by Vincent Bollore, a prominent businessman with ties to President Nicolas Sarkozy, kicked off a two-month testing phase with around 60 vehicles scattered over 10 stations. The programme is expected to be scaled up to 250 vehicles on December 5 and could include 2,000 of the small four-seaters over 46 municipalities around the French capital by the end of June 2012.

“This service will complement public transport and taxis. Our aim to widen the range of available transport,” deputy Paris mayor Annick Lepetit said at the launch. The Bollore group predicts it will need 80,000 users to make a profit and hopes to attract customers with a low fee of 12 euros a month for an annual subscription. Car-sharing systems exist in New York and cities in the Netherlands but the Autolib’ project in Paris is a novelty in that all vehicles are electric.

The Autolib system is intended to build on the success of the Velib bicycle-rental service, similar to that operating in many European cities. A two-month pilot project will allow motorists to hire the battery-powered Bluecar for 30 minutes at a cost of four to eight euros.

Membership of the Autolib scheme will cost from 10 euros a day up to 144 euros a year. The cars are being provided by entrepreneur Vincent Bollore and manufactured by the Italian designer Pininfarina, famous for sculpting Ferraris and Maseratis.

They will have a range of up to 250 km before a recharge, which will take about four hours. At first, 66 of the four-seater electric vehicles will be available for hire at 33 charging stations.

But Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe intends to expand to 3,000 electric vehicles and more than 1,000 stations by the end of 2012. "We want to persuade people to shift from the concept of owning a car to that of using a car," Autolib General Manager Morald Chibout told the Reuters news agency.

Plugging in at a charging station The scheme intends to have 1000 charging stations across Paris by the end of 2012. The project gets underway as leading automakers test driver enthusiasm for electric cars on a large scale in Europe.

Renault SA and its Japanese sister company Nissan Motor Company have invested 4 billion euros in electric cars. Carlos Ghosn, who leads Renault and Nissan, has said electric cars could account for 10% of new car sales by 2020.

Valentine de la Celle, a 30-year-old Parisian mother of two, does not own a car. "We are doing building work at home at the moment and to take things to the tip I would have to hire a car, which is difficult," she told Reuters.

"But the scheme needs to be quick and simple, otherwise people will not use it." Like the Velib cycle-hire scheme, Autolib’s pricing structure encourages people to rent vehicles only for short journeys. "We are not here to compete against traditional car rental businesses," said deputy mayor Annick Lepetit.