Is this a new take on the Indy 500?
Not sure about that, but if the Midwest has had less exposure to electric vehicles than, say California, New York, or other regions, that should start to change this year with the influx of state-of-the-art European EVs into Indianapolis.
The BlueIndy car sharing program beginning December aims to flood downtown Indy by the end of 2015 with 1,000 level 2 chargers and 500 Bolloré Bluecars available from 200 locations for smartphone-app-guided, RFID-wielding customers to hop in and use.
Presently, there are just 10 of the Bolloré group’s four-seaters brought in as demonstrators to give anyone curious a taste of what’s coming, but the commercial operation will begin with 125 cars to start just as the winter holiday season is in full swing.
These Pininfarina-designed, purpose-built urban EVs are constructed around Bolloré’s proprietary solid-state 30-kilowatt-hour lithium-metal polymer (LMP) batteries, and appear to be ideally suited to their task.
Autolib – Paris. Upbeat music, eh? Come on, you know EVs look like fun!
Priced as a limited-availability car to consumers in Europe – sans leased battery – for around $16,000, as peppy rental cars, they are “sturdy” and elemental transportation with a Nissan-Leaf-crushing 120-150-mile urban range, and estimated 93 miles highway range.
The car sharing program will use slightly taller, DOT-certified Bluecar versions for American needs and is modeled on the already profitable Autolib service begun December 2011 in Paris and similar to the city’s Vélib bike sharing program. Autolib now boasts 50,000 subscribers, and has provided over 5 million rentals to date, qualifying it as a financial success faster than expected.
So where in the U.S. did this French operation set its sites on to share the love? Instead of some likely place such as San Francisco to plant its business model, synergy was found between Republican Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, and a multi-billionaire with a vision for electrification whose name is not Elon Musk, but rather, Vincent Bolloré.
Bolloré’s net worth is $8.7 billion, making him the 10th-richest person in France, number 151 on Forbes’ list of 1,645 billionaires, and he has taken a shining to Indy having branched his “ecomobility” solution from Paris to London, and now the U.S.
The idea is being embraced by Ballard who, elected in 2007 and now in his second term, has presided over six consecutive balanced budgets and has supported sustainable initiatives for years. In December 2012, he signed an executive order to make Indianapolis the United States’ first major city pledging to convert its entire municipal non-police fleet to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025.
The city with population around 820,000 – and a car capital in its own right – has limited public transportation, has already adopted bike sharing, and is keen to make itself a model of zero-emissions transportation.
Ballard’s personal motivation comes after a 23-year career as a U.S. Marine with action seen in the Persian Gulf War, and having retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He has backed words with deeds showing he wants to help America wean off of petroleum, especially the imported kind for which he once risked his life.
“The United States’ current transportation energy model, driven by oil, exacts an enormous cost on each and every one of its inhabitants financially and an enormous cost on the country in terms of strategic leverage,” he said. “The United States’ dependence on oil for use in transportation comes at a high cost-both in terms of dollars and lives. To reduce our dependence on oil, developing and diversifying viable American energy sources is required.”
In an interview yesterday with BlueIndy President Hervé Muller, we were told plans are to dot downtown Indy with Bluecars so students, corporate and government employees, and well, anyone, can readily find one, get in and go a few blocks, a few miles, or more.
Cars will be locatable by a smart phone app, and accessible via rental kiosks which verify driver’s license, other vital info, and accept payment.
The Bluecars will be parked on street, parking will be free and reserved thus no hassle, though users are responsible to plug in the vehicle when done driving.
The kiosks are to be strategically located and by the to-be-determined start date this December, BlueIndy aims to have 25 locations with five free parking spots per location.
Through 2015, about 15 new locations will be opened each month, said Muller, until a goal of 200 locations is reached for a fairly high Bluecar density making them essentially as accessible as a city bus.
“The principle is we want to have a very large deployment,” he said, thus an effective privately run arm of the public transit system.
And, said Vincent Bolloré in an interview with Forbes, “We want to demonstrate the electric car is not only a very high priced toy for VIPs.”
Speaking of prices, Muller said these have not been established yet, but the goal is to make the car “very close” in correlating with the fee structure in Paris where acceptance has been high.
Muller estimates this at around $13 per month for an annual membership. Use of the vehicle would tentatively require a flat fee of $5 for 20 minutes, and after that it would be a proportional price per minute. That is, the next 10 minutes would be $2.50, and one hour would be $15.
Muller said the company expects average uses would be 20 minutes, so these really are just for short jaunts, though rates will be available for anyone – those wishing to rent a day, a week, a month, a year.
As the first mass-produced EV to be fitted with more-energy-dense LMP solid-state batteries, Muller said there are no present plans for the Bolloré Bluecar to be marketed to consumers in the U.S. but perhaps it or an evolved version ought to be.
It was designed by Pininfarina from the ground up as an EV, a “battery with wheels,” said Muller, and is constructed in Bairo, Italy by Cecopmp under a join venture between Bolloré and Pininfarina known as Vehicule Électriques Pininfarina Bolloré (VEPB).
The car has a nominal power rating of 35 kilowatts (47 horsepower), max of 50-kw (67 horsepower), top speed is electrically limted to 81 mph (130 kph), and 0-37 mph (60 kph) is 6.3 seconds – OK for city use.
Not a toy for the well-to-do, if several thousand now trolling the streets in Paris are any indication, it ought to be an effective set of wheels for anyone in downtown Indy.
And if not a powerhouse, no EV shy of a 208-mile, 60-kwh Tesla Model S boasts as much range as the little runabout which could go 150 miles on a good day, yet could be priced somewhere around the low-water mark if it were made available to consumers.
The Bolloré Bluecar measures – in Euro spec – 12-feet long, 5.6-feet wide, 5.3-feet tall, with a 12.4-cubic-foot truck, and gross weight is 2,469 pounds.
Its chassis saves weight where possible, and is constructed of steel and aluminum, with its body constructed of aluminum and ABS plastic.
The Bolloré group plans to ultimately invest $35 million, and $16 million has been committed by Indianapolis Power and Light for the 208-volt level 2 charging stations. Bolloré will also hire employees to support the local system.
Among reasons why Mayor Ballard says the program will be readily adopted is it fills a gap in a limited public transportation system, and there are plenty who could see the light.
This includes 80,000 university students and employees for several major corporations who help comprise the regular populace in the downtown area.
In an interview with the Indianapolis Business Journal, Vincent Bolloré estimated BlueIndy would need 15,000-20,000 regular users to break even. He said he expects to reach profitability within 3-4 years, and regular users could spend about $1,000 a year in total.
Autolib cars in Paris.
For his part, Mayor Ballard has said he thinks BlueIndy could become profitable in 5-7 years.
Muller however said the number of customers needed to break even was not firmly established, as BlueIndy’s planners study and adapt to a market quite different than that of Paris, a city of 2.2 million, and with Autolib extending into the far-more populous suburbs.
Among customers will be one-time or infrequent users, as well as those who see this as a way to get by without personal car ownership.
Studies have shown car sharing may eliminate the need to own and maintain a car, and one study by Alixpartyner showed 48 percent of American car sharing or self-service vehicle users end up not buying or selling cars.
It also showed that without car-sharing or self-service vehicles, Americans would have bought or would buy an additional 1.2 million vehicles between 2006 and 2020.
At this point it may be too early to tell, but Muller said, “we are very confident in the model” the Bolloré group has proven ahead of schedule in Paris, and which is now spreading to London, and sooner or later, “we are confident that it will reach profitability.”
In any event, it took an ambitious European company to come in and do this at a time when Chrysler has no EVs, Ford has limited sales of its Focus EV, and General Motors has been undecided whether its Spark EV city car will be sold outside of California and Oregon.
As is the case with Tesla, a billionaire and a vision are pushing the agenda and EV proponents see this as a positive portent, as Mayor Ballard also pointed out.
“Bolloré’s EV sharing program will give the residents, visitors, and businesses the opportunity to use an EV in their everyday travel. This will immediately have a large impact on the community’s use of oil and demonstrate that EVs are a viable alternative today,” he said. “Once people experience the technology, I strongly believe people in our community and beyond will want to use and even may buy an EV. Further, the pro-gram will allow owners of EVs to charge at the new charging stations, which is extremely important.”