Paris Autolib electric car hire scheme accelerates

PARIS (Reuters) - Parisians who flocked to use the popular Velib bike hire scheme will also be able to zip down the Champs-Elysees in environmentally friendly electric cars when a self-service car hire scheme gets underway next autumn.

Vincent Bollore poses next to a Bollore Blue Car electric car on media day at the Paris Mondial de l'Automobile September 30, 2010. REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen (FRANCE - Tags: TRANSPORT BUSINESS)

French conglomerate Bollore, whose interests range from media to logistics, led by charismatic industrialist and businessman Vincent Bollore, has won a contract to provide its small four-seater electric cars for the scheme.

The bubble-shaped Bluecars, designed by Italian partner Pininfarina, are powered by lithium polymer metal batteries produced by Bollore, and have a range of 250 km (155 miles) in the city between charges, which will take about four hours.

As governments seek cleaner air for cities and carmakers battle to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of their fleets, electric vehicles are taking on a more important role.

Major carmakers like Renault, Nissan, PSA Peugeot Citroen and General Motors are introducing electric models.

The Velib self-service bike hire scheme was launched in 2007 and quickly grew, despite problems including theft and vandalism, to become a fixture of Parisian streets, with many commuters choosing one of the heavy grey bikes over a bus or metro ride.

The name Velib combines French for bike -- “velo” -- with “liberte” -- freedom.

Paris’ socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who pushed for the introduction of Velib, has now turned his attention to cars.

Autolib will see 3,000 electric vehicles take to the streets, with drivers able to pick up a car from one of the 1,000 stations in Paris and its suburbs.

Autolib drivers, who will need a driving licence, and will have to subscribe to the scheme, will be able to reserve a car in advance or take their chances at one of the stations spread throughout the city and the Ile-de-France region.

An annual subscription costs 12 euros per month, while using the car costs 5 euros for the first half hour, four euros for the next and six for the following half-hours, to encourage short journeys.

Fifty-eight percent of Parisians do not have a car, said Paris city hall, which awarded the contract.

A study by Paris urban consultancy APUR showed a car spends on average 95 percent of its time parked and that 16 percent of Parisians use their car less than once a month, the city hall added.

Reporting by Helen Massy-Beresford; Additional Reporting by Alexandre Boksenbaum-Granier, editing by Paul Casciato