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Electric sharing

October 20, 2011

France caught the world's attention when it launched its Vélib' bike-sharing scheme in 2007. Now Paris is preparing another mobility revolution. It's testing a new electric car-sharing program to be launched in December.

Autolib' Bluecar in Paris
Autolib' is being tested ahead of the December launchImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Parisian Mayor Bertrand Delanoë wants to cut noise and air pollution in the capital city with an all-electric car-sharing program named Autolib' – a portmanteau of the French words automobile and liberté (freedom).

The Autolib' project is the first of its kind and aims to provide customers with 3,000 electric cars and 1,100 charging stations over the coming year. The first phase will begin with the launch 250 electric "Bluecars" on December 5, 2011.

Inspiring other European cities to follow suit "will certainly be an incentive," a Paris city hall spokesperson told Deutsche Welle. "If Autolib' is a success, it will prove that such an ambitious scheme on such a massive scale can be done."

The car-sharing scheme will add to the diverse range of public transport available in Paris, which already includes an extensive bus, metro and suburban rail network, as well as the Vélib' bicycle scheme and some 700 km of cycling paths.

Interior view of an Autolib' Bluecar in Paris
The Autolib' Bluecar seats four passengers and is fitted with GPS technologyImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Just like its Vélib' counterpart, Autolib' stations where drivers can rent and return electric cars will be scattered throughout the city.

Autolib' will be also available in 45 municipalities around Paris, making the initiative a truly metropolitan project. French investment group Bolloré currently presides over the scheme, with participating municipalities financing the stations.

Four steps, four seats

Borrowing an Autolib' a simple four-step process: subscribe, rent, drive and pass it on.

Drivers are obligated to first register at an Autolib' kiosk by presenting an ID, a valid driver's license, a credit card, and choosing a subscription package, which can range from 10 euros for 24 hours to 144 euros for a year. The driver is then issued a personal badge that can be used at any Autolib' terminal.

Autolib' Bluecar undergoes charging
Recharging a Bluecar battery takes about 8 hoursImage: Sophie Robichon/Mairie de Paris

The typical Autolib' Bluecar is an automatic four-seater, equipped with a small trunk and GPS system. The vehicle can accelerate from 0 to 100 kilometers per hour in 6.7 seconds, with a top speed of 130km/h.

The vehicles have a range of about 250 kilometers before they needs to be recharged (which takes about 8 hours), making them ideal for city errands that require a vehicle, as opposed to out of town trips.

Congestion concerns

Each Autolib' is expected to replace more than seven cars on average, or a total of 22,500 privately owned vehicles, along with their carbon dioxide trails.

Apart from of the obvious benefits of reducing emissions and noise pollution, Autolib' also provides an accessible answer to automobile ownership. In expensive cities like Paris, owning a car is exceedingly more trouble than it's worth. Instead of drivers hunting for parking spots, car-sharing initiatives offer designated pick-up and drop-off terminals.

"By offering city dwellers such an alternative to a privately owned car, we expect to reduce car-dependency," a city hall spokesperson said. "Since 2001, car traffic inside Paris has already gone down by 25 percent, thanks to the city's previous efforts."

But some environmentalists have already begun to argue that Autolib' will only add to the congestion of Paris streets by making it easier for people to drive on a whim instead of using public transportation or bicycles.

Autolib' Bluecar and charging station in Paris
Dozens of municipal authorities are involved in setting up Autolib' infrastructureImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Cars to go

While Paris offers electric cars to its residents, German automotive company Daimler is also expanding its car-sharing activities. The company will expand its car2go program to Amsterdam and San Diego and launch 300 new Smart fortwo electric drive vehicles.

Both cities have a strong commitment to developing a public charging infrastructure, which Daimler says is an essential step to introducing electric cars into mainstream traffic.

The expansion will make car2go one of the largest fully electric car-sharing fleets worldwide.

Daimler car2go cars in Ulm, Germany
Daimler's car-sharing scheme uses on Smart compact carsImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

The program, which started out with conventional vehicles, recently made five electric cars available at its Ulm branch. According to Andreas Leo, Corporate Communications Manager of car2go, requests for the electric cars in the city have jumped, with over 1,000 rentals in just two months.

"I would say that car-sharing programs are good partners for electric cars," Leo said. "Customers can get electric mobility at moderate costs." Indeed, customers in Ulm can drive electric cars for just 24 cent per minute.

"car2go is a mobility concept for large cities and a good alternative for the urban mobility demands of the citizens," he added. "It's a short-time rental concept in dense areas with small zero-emission cars - this is a perfect fit."

Making the switch

The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) reports 1,786 new electric cars have been registered in the country so far in 2011, while new hybrid car registrations reached 9,214. Combined, these alternative vehicles represent just 0.46 percent of total registrations in Germany.

"Studies show the most important criteria when buying a car is reliability, safety and price," said VDA press officer Sandra Courant.

"The first priority must be to reduce the cost gap between electric cars and fuel vehicles," she said, adding that the VDA expects all German carmakers to introduce mass-produced electric models to the market in the next few years.

Stuttgart-based Daimler is certainly on board. The company's head of media relations, Matthias Brock, said one of the biggest hurdles in shifting from fuel to electricity is the capability and reliability of battery technology.

Daimler is convinced that electric vehicles with chemical fuel cells are the ideal solution for emission-free driving, even for longer distances. Its Mercedes-Benz B-Class F-CELL, an electric vehicle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell, already has a range of 400 km and takes only 3 to 4 minutes to refuel.

Author: Melanie Sevcenko
Editor: Sam Edmonds