PARIS - Billionaire entrepreneur Vincent Bollore hopes his Pininfarina-designed bubble-shaped electric cars will help clear the traffic-clogged arteries of Paris, as well as providing a charge to his new battery business.
The Autolib cars will be available for hire in a two-month trial starting this week. The hire fee is 4 euros to 8 euros per half hour for motorists prepared to pay a membership fee starting at 10 euros for a day of driving.
The 235 million euro ($321 million) project is the brainchild of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who hopes to duplicate the success of Velib, the bicycle-sharing scheme he launched in 2007 and which has been copied by several cities in France and abroad.
It's also a potential showcase for Bollore's eponymous industrial conglomerate, which is making the BlueCar vehicles involved in the scheme and which are based on a lithium-metal-polymer battery, a different technology from the lithium-ion batteries other carmakers are using.
Bollore told journalists on Friday he expected the project to make a profit in a number of years. "We estimate that it will be profitable from the seventh year, and an industrial group like ours is used to (its investments) turning a profit from the sixth or seventh year," he said.
The scheme echoes increasingly popular car clubs such as City Car which allow members to hire a local car for as little as an hour at a time.
"We want to persuade people to shift from the concept of owning a car to that of using a car," Autolib General Manager Morald Chibout told Reuters.
The city of Paris has spent 35 million euros ($47.8 million) in building the car rental stations, while neighbouring communes have contributed 50,000 for each station.
The Bollore group, which has invested 200 million euros in the project, will pay a 750 euros annual fee for each car space.
Taking a cue from the success of Velib, the project is aimed at reducing the need for the private cars that hog Parisian boulevards as well as offering locals and visitors a chance to discover electric cars.
The service will debut with 66 cars and 33 stations throughout Paris, but will expand to 3,000 vehicles and more than 1,000 stations by the end of 2012.