Paris launch of electric car scheme – December 2011

Four years after Paris underwent a "vélorution" with its hit low-cost rent-a-bike scheme, the French capital on Monday officially launched its electric car equivalent: Autolib’.

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A car leaves a parking station for the Autolib’ electric car-share scheme on a street in Paris Photo: AP

clip_image003 By Henry Samuel, Paris 6:05PM GMT 05 Dec 2011

As of Monday morning, some 250 of the eerily silent four-seater electric vehicles are now available for hire in ranks in and around the capital. The fleet will expand to 3,000 cars in 1,100 ranks by the middle of next year, many strategically located near metro and railway stations.

Like the hugely popular Vélib bike system, users rent a car at one location and can drop it off at another.

Other major capitals, including London and Paris already have non-electric car share schemes. But officials say that France is the first to deploy an all-electric fleet using a new generation of longer lasting lithium-metal-polymer batteries.

"Now we can imagine the city without the stink and noise of exhaust pipes," said  French magnate Vincent Bollore, whose company is supplying the cars.

"You can walk behind an Autolib car with a pushchair and not worry about fumes."

But the scheme has its share of critics.

Some Greens claim it will "reorient those who had chosen public transport towards the automobile" and that the use of electric engines encourages nuclear power – France’s prime electricity generator.

Taxi drivers have tried to take the scheme to court for "unfair competition" while Paris’ conservative UMP opposition worry it will be a financial flop.

Paris’ Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë sought to silence the doubters at the launch, saying it was "a revolution" that would spell "fewer parked cars, less traffic and less pollution".

"A little more than four years ago we introduced the Vélib’, it was an innovation as well as a risk which was met with scepticism and sarcasm," the mayor said.

The cars have been made ultra-resistant in the hope they will withstand vandalism that has become the blight of the Vélib’ scheme.

Contracts cost 144 euros (£123) per year or 133 for families, plus four or five euros for each half-hour of use. Daily or weekly memberships are also on offer.

The cars contain GPS systems and a panic button with which users can speak to one of 1,000 "ambassadors" should they get stuck.

Bolloré said the scheme so far had 2,000 subscribers, but would need 80,000 to break even.

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