The Autolib car in all its glory

All eyes will be on far sighted electric car hire scheme next month in Paris. Autolib launches in December 5th some 250 electric cars will be available to Parisians who want “une voiture juste quand il faut” – roughly translated, “a car just when you want it”.

The “Bluecar” is made by a joint venture between the Bolloré Group and Italian design firm Pininfarina and has a top speed of 80 miles per hour, a range of 155 miles per charge, and takes 8 hours to recharge fully. The car was selected over cars made by Smart and Renault, and the Li-ion batteries in it reportedly took €1.5 billion to develop.

By the end of 2012 there will be 3,000 Bluecars on the roads in Paris, and 1,000 charging / docking stations. For anyone unfamiliar with the concept, it follows on from the city’s successful Velib cycle hire scheme, now copied in cities across the world including London. You pay €144 an annual subscription for access to the cars, and then pay for use under pricing structure designed to encourage short trips.

Car sharing in cities is far from a new idea, Zipcar / Streetcar is the most successful example. But sharing electric cars is novel. Whether or not its viable remains to be seen, the major challenge has always been the charging infrastructure, which requires massive investment. Bollore himself  doesn’t expect to break even with Autolib for seven years. There’s also a question mark over whether or not the scheme will just add to the congestion on Paris’ roads.

However, the boldness and bravery of Autolib has to be applauded. If successful, it’s easy to imagine the scheme being copied and improved in other cities, just as the Velib scheme has been. Let’s hope the Mayor’s of other cities around the world are taking notes.

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