The hottest new trend from Paris hit the streets of Indy on Monday: an all-electric car-sharing service.
A jubilant Mayor Greg Ballard and First Lady Winnie Ballard on Monday joined Indianapolis Power and Light Chief Executive Kelly Huntington, Vincent Bolloré, chairman and chief executive of the Bolloré Group, and a coterie of other city and industry officials a to launch BlueIndy, an all electric car-sharing service that is poised to be the largest of its kind in the Americas.
BlueIndy represents "a new era of transportation ability and freedom for people across this city," Ballard said, noting he hopes to build on success of the Indiana Pacers BikeShare program, which registered 3,000 transactions in its first week of operation this spring.
"We're finally witnessing the dawn of the electric car era revolution," Ballard said, noting that in the same way consumers are now used to on-demand entertainment, BlueIndy offers on-demand cars that are "there when you want it or need it."
Officials estimate that using a car share service would save the average user $200 a month over the costs associated with owning and operating a vehicle. The mayor said he hoped that BlueIndy's presence would not only provide an additional amenity to capture the fancy of those evaluating the city for future residence or business, but that Indy would "provide a model to the rest of this country — and the rest of the world."
Indy is a leader in its adoption of Bolloré's technology, but Paris stands as the pioneer. The city's Autolib service has logged more than 5 million rentals with 2,000 cars and registered 140,000 subscribers. The electric vehicles have saved the equivalent of 5,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted during the 27 million miles their drivers have traveled thus far. The Bolloré Group itself is headquartered in France and has international operations in a variety of businesses from palm oil to shipping. The company employs 55,000 people and has an estimated market capitalization of about $17 million.
The electric vehicle industry began heralding Indy as a national leader in the transition award from gas-powered vehicles after Ballard issued his goal in December 2012 to convert the city's vehicle fleet — over 3,000 vehicles — to electric or hybrid by 2025. The World Electric Vehicle Association awarded Ballard its E-Visionary Award in 2013.
BlueIndy's unveiling on Monday occurred in conjunction with the Electric Drive Transportation Association's annual conference, which will run through May 21 in Indianapolis. The group chose to locate the event away from its usual base in Washington D.C. in part out of its members' enthusiasm for Indy's efforts to embrace electric.
"Indianapolis is, to us, the most famous city in the world," Bolloré said, ribbing the Indy scouts for spending "three days trying to break our system in Paris before adopting (it)."
Business built on people/brand
The personal relationships the Bolloré Group was able to establish in Indy provided one of two reasons his company opted to begin its U.S. rollout in Indiana, Bolloré said. The second reason, he added, was that "Indianapolis has always been the green light in the world for cars."
And, with Frenchman Simon Pagenaud winning Indy's inaugural Grand Prix on May 10 and racing in Sunday's Indianapolis 500, France's interest in Indy car culture is primed for continued growth.
Bolloré's initial investment in BlueIndy is an estimated $35 million. An estimated 20,000 subscribers are needed for the business to break even Bolloré told a Bloomberg reporter.
Bolloré's proprietary lithium-metal-polymer batteries — which offer a lower-cost storage model than has been previously been available — provide the foundation for the company's success on the electric vehicle front. Bluecar batteries power a maximum range of about 150 miles per charge. In addition, the company is pursuing applications in generator replacement, trams, boats, buses, housing and more. The subsidiary responsible for the Bollaré's transportation businesses, Blue Solutions, is a publicly traded company in Paris.
"New electric cars are very expensive; not a lot of people can have that," Bolloré said, noting that he hoped his "cheap, easy, good service of electric cars" would allow clients to help contribute to quieter, cleaner cities without having to give up their cars.
How green can we get?
Bolloré called the quest to efficiently store energy "one of the greatest environmental challenges of our time," as civilization grapples with the human health costs and the ecologic harm associated with greenhouse gases, particulate matter and noise pollution.
"This project truly sets us apart from any other city in the U.S. and puts us on the radar globally," IPL's Huntington said.
IPL has already installed 162 electric vehicle charging stations around the city and established a special EV charging rate available off peak hours. Some estimates place the per-gallon cost compared to gasoline at 55 cents a gallon.
Indiana's electric industry, which still depends on some older, coal-fired power plants — and has more coal ash ponds than any other state in the nation — is in transition toward more renewable sources, Huntington commented during the reception.
"It's so exciting to match the demand (associated with BlueIndy vehicles) to the intermittent supply of wind and solar, providing even greater capacity to expand it in the Midwest," Huntington said, noting that IPL hopes to soon add a new, natural gas-powered combined combustion gas turbine into its production mix as well.
In addition to the environmental advantages electric vehicles offer, Mayor Ballard, a veteran of the Gulf War, is vocal about his distaste for sending U.S. dollars abroad for oil.
"Historians will not be kind to the West when referring to this 40-year period beginning in the 1970s," Ballard in comments made earlier Monday at the National Governors Association meeting of top state energy officials, who were also in town. "They will refer to the period as the greatest voluntary transfer of wealth in world history, with so much of that transferred wealth being used to do us harm. ... A strong case could be made, as many have done, that the United States is financing both sides of the War on Terror."
Getting to know BlueIndy
A kiosk is currently set up Downtown on Washington Street, just northeast of Meridian Street, to introduce Indy to the service and allow people to take a free trial. The final rates have yet to be set. The company hopes to have its initial operation fully established within eight months — including 500 electric vehicles, 200 service locations and 1,000 charging stations. It takes a valid driver's license and a credit card to establish an account, which can be done at the kiosk 24-7.
In Paris, Autolib membership costs about $13 per month, plus a per-trip fee that averages about $4.50 for 20 minutes. In Indy, the company plans to establish 25 initial locations — many Downtown as well as locations in Broad Ripple, Castleton, Irvington and Glendale. Subscribers can borrow a car from one location to return it to another.
As they begin to acclimate to the increased presence of electric vehicles, Bolloré warned drivers to be cognizant that the cars are quiet — not at all like most combustion engines — and therefore drivers must be more sensitive about pedestrians, who may not hear an electric cars approach and be forewarned to exercise appropriate caution.
Indy's other Blues — the Colts Mascot, Blue, and Butler's bulldog, Blue 2 — also joined Monday's festivities. Blue, the Colt, even settled in for a test drive of one of the racy Italian-designed BlueIndy vehicles, a fact to which Bolloré, one of the richest men of the world, reacted with the priceless delight of a school kid.