How a French utility is driving e-mobility

Wed, 2014-09-17 06:00 -- Kevin Ebi

Car-sharing services have transformed the way that residents of many major cities get around by making it easy to rent vehicles for the odd trips where public transit just won’t do. And now they may transform the way that people look at clean-energy vehicles as well.

They’re doing that by adding electric vehicles to their car-sharing fleets or, in some cases, starting new sharing services that only have electric cars.

One of the pioneers in this effort has been the city of Nice, France, which started its electric car-sharing service more than three years ago with Council Lead Partner Electricite de France (EDF) – one of Europe's leading electric utilities. Their service now has more than 4,000 active subscribers, more than 200 cars and 70 charging stations.

Citelum was in charge of installing and operating the electric vehicle charging stations in Nice, in partnership with EDF, Veolia and Transdev. Citelum is an EDF subsidiary.

The program was initially designed with individual motorists in mind. For people who rely on car-sharing services, it helps to cut emissions from their trips. But it’s also a showcase. For people who wonder if an electric car is right for them, it provides an opportunity to try before they buy or commit to a lease.

It appears to be working. More than 90% of the people who use the service say they’re satisfied. And a similar service in Paris became profitable after just a year and a half, three years faster than forecast.

Businesses join in

But businesses also appear to see the value of electric cars. Equipment manufacturer Bosch, which is headquartered on the outskirts of Paris, has provided shared vehicles for its employees for well over a decade. It recently added electric cars to that fleet.

The company says the electric cars have caught on. About 25% of its employees use them, and half of them are heavy users.

EDF says employees don’t need to be coaxed to use the cars; they just need the vehicles. A survey found 80% of French citizens said they would use such services if their companies made them available.

The car-sharing initiative is just one of a number of e-mobility projects that EDF is involved in, from electric buses to an electric water taxi service in Bordeaux.


Sharing service investments growing

In addition to Nice and Paris, Amsterdam, San Francisco, and Bilbao, Spain are among the other cities that have extensive fleets of shared electric cars. And businesses are now making big investments to expand the concept.

French investor Vincent Bolloré is spending $35 million to start an electric car-sharing service in Indianapolis, Ind. The local utility is spending another $16 million to install charging stations.

The system will feature up to 500 electric vehicles and up to 1,000 charging stations at approximately 200 locations, and the city thinks the investment will pay off within the next five to seven years.

But Bolloré says he’s in this project for more than the money. As a child, he says he was inspired by the car races that the city is famous for. And now he wants to use that city’s passion for cars to demonstrate the value of the electric car.

“We want to demonstrate the electric car is not only a very high priced toy for VIPs,” Bolloré told Forbes. “I think you can increase the number of cars in the cities and decrease the level of pollution.”

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