Cleantech Market Intelligence
Brickyard City Hosts Carsharing Experiment
Indianapolis, Indiana, is set to become the site of one of the biggest electric vehicle (EV) carsharing programs in the United States. The Bolloré Group kicked off the “BlueIndy” carshare program, the company’s first in the United States, in May. The Bolloré Group is large French conglomerate that, among other things, produces electrical components for capacitors and lithium polymer batteries.
Indianapolis is an odd choice for an EV carshare service location compared to a city like Paris, where Bolloré’s Autolib one-way EV service has been a huge success since its launch in December 2011. Autolib was one of the first carshare programs to combine EV technology with the one-way carshare model, which allows users to drop cars off at any of the service’s designated parking spots. The Autolib program has expanded beyond Paris and now has around 140,000 users across France. According to Hervé Muller, the president of BlueIndy and vice president of Bolloré subsidiary IER, the cars in the Paris Autolib program are used an average of 7 times per day and the program is set to become profitable just 3 years after its launch. The company is now targeting the United States.
So why Indianapolis? The city has limited public transportation, and its downtown, although quite suitable for hosting the Super Bowl, lacks the concentration of residential living that successful carsharing cities like Paris, Boston, and San Francisco have. What it does have, though, is a mayor who made the carshare program one of his major priorities and an electric utility that stepped in to pay for charging equipment.
Setting up a public charging network fulfilled a key goal for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. Indeed, this program demonstrates a creative way for a city to rapidly establish a charging network. Bolloré will let other EV drivers use the stations, thus adding an additional revenue stream.
Bolloré has committed to bringing 500 Bluecar EVs and 1,000 public charging stations to Indianapolis. This represents a $35 million commitment from the company. Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) has also partnered to support the charging deployment, although there is some question about whether IPL can secure a rate hike to pay for it. In my conversation with him, Muller said Bolloré expects the BlueIndy service could take up to 6 years to reach profitability and noted that the company is taking a long-term view of developing its U.S. carshare business.
Students and Tourists
It will be instructive to track how this service is used. Typically, public transportation can be a key ingredient for successful carsharing services, because it allows city residents to get around easily, with the carshare filling in the transit gaps. In Indianapolis, BlueIndy may essentially take the place of a widespread public transit network. This is an advantage of the one-way model, with cars being easily used for short trips across town, for example.
The Bolloré Group is also looking to draw membership from the city’s large student population, travelers using the Indianapolis airport, and local businesses that could use the carshare program in place of fleet vehicles. It’s an ambitious plan. Bolloré has yet to deliver its first U.S.-approved EVs and the program could take several years to reach viability. But if it works, the Indy experiment could serve as a model for other similar U.S. cities.