Ride Sharing’s Short Trips Could Be EV’s Secret Weapon

Since the late 2011 launch of the French capital’s Autolib car-sharing program, Paris residents have used its fleet of 1,800 electric vehicles on more than 2 million trips using 4,000 dedicated charging points, according to a report in IEEE Spectrum.

That makes Paris one of the world’s largest centers for EV sharing. The success in Paris has led Autolib’s parent, Bolloré, to launch a similar program in Lyon, France, next month. They are also preparing to expand into Bordeaux, France; Indianapolis; and an as-yet-undisclosed Asian city. Competitors, including Daimler and BMW, have launched their own EV car sharing programs in more than a dozen European and North American cities.

Short trips within the urban perimeter and many accessible charging stations enable the cars to perform well despite the EV’s current 60- to 150 mile range. Car sharing’s pay-per-trip business model also frees users from paying the steep up-front cost of the EV’s battery.

Ballore Bluecar

French industrial conglomerate Bolloré used its metal-extrusion expertise to develop the lithium metal polymer (LMP) batteries that propel Autolib’s Bluecar EVs. The company saw Autolib as a way to demonstrate the company’s success in increasing the short life span of the batteries, which deterred people from taking a chance on the cars.

It cost more than $2.3 billion to develop the battery and deploy it through Autolib. Bolloré teamed up with Italian car designer Pininfarina to develop the compact Bluecar, whose 30-kilowatt-hour LMP battery provides an average 120 mile range in urban use. The 250 mile battery warranty that comes with individually purchased Bluecars—2.5 times as long as the battery warranty Nissan offers for its comparably sized Leaf EV—shows Bolloré’s confidence in its technology.

Bolloré subsidiary IER created Autolib’s integrated user network and charging stations, which helps stave off drivers’ anxiety about how much range their rental has left.  Drivers swipe their Autolib RFID cards at one of 800 stations, and are automatically directed to a local car with the best charge. The system won’t release cars with less than a 40 percent charge. Autolib tracks each car’s battery status, and contacts drivers when their charge runs below 20 percent charge or if they’ve ventured beyond the last ring of charging stations.

Autolib general director Morald Chibout predicts the program will turn a profit in 2014. Not surprising since car-sharing programs grew fivefold worldwide between 2006 and 2012, according to the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.  Yet there is room in the market for EVs since only a small percentage of the 43,544 shared vehicles used by last year’s were EVs.

One problem is cost. Buying and operating an EV costs about $400 more per month than a regular car, according to the article.

South Korea has embraced EV car sharing as part of its “sharing economy” initiative, according to the Wall Street Journal. The government makes electric cars available for rent throughout Seoul allowing registered drivers to book a Kia Ray EV online for $5 an hour. Drivers can pick up their rental car at any of the unmanned parking lots across the city. Charging is free and the rental expenses include insurance costs.

Car sharing is expected to ease congestion and pollution in what is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. According to Fast Company, Seoul is also one of the most digitally connected cities on earth, with 60% of Koreans owning a smartphone.

As in France, high prices are a major concern for potential buyers. The lack of charging stations is another hurdle that has to be addressed in over crowded Seoul.

Car sharing is also getting a boost in the Indian market. Bangalore-based ZoomCar India runs a membership-based, self-drive car rental service called Zoom in the city, and has raised over $200,000 in angel funding in 2013 from Empire Angels and a UK group of investors led by Lady Barbara Judge, Chairman Emeritus of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. It also received a $30,000 investment from former Obama administration advisor Larry Summers.

To read the IEEE Spectrum report cited in this story, click here

To read the Wall Street Journal article cited in this story, click here

To read the Fast Company article cited in this story, click here

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