Austrian State Tries Centralized Approach to Electric Car Ownership

By · October 26, 2011

Believe it or not, the Austrian state of Vorarlberg may someday lead the world in electric car adoption. Vorarlberg is a tiny state by American standards. It's about the same size as Rhode Island, but it has something you can't find anywhere in the United States. It has Vlotte. Instead of the hassle of working with a car dealer, Austrians in Vorarlberg go straight to the Vlotte office—a kind of one-stop-shop for electric cars and other clean transportation services.

The Vlotte office issues a mobility card, for 437 euros a month (US $609). With that, you get a car, a Mitsubishi i-MiEV for example. This is not a car-sharing plan. You can choose the model and the color. The car is yours, offered under a five-year lease contract. The customer gets a complete comprehensive insurance plan and free maintenance. The battery is under warranty, and the only running cost not included is on non-electric wear parts, such as tires.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the most successful car in the Vlotte program

Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the most successful car in the Vlotte program.

As the television pitchman says, "But that's not all." The Vlotte's fee also includes free parking and free electricity from certified renewable sources—photovoltaic and hydro power—at all charging stations in Austria, as well as in surrounding countries, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany. The access to charging stations might sound impressive, but it's not—at least at this stage. There aren't many charging stations these days.

Wait, there's more. The customer also gets a free pass to ride any public transportation service in Vorarlberg. The idea is that Vlotte covers 100 percent of your mobility needs with the monthly fee. The customer doesn't pay for anything—providing of course, that charging takes place using official EV charging stations.

The Vlotte cars when the program started

The Vlotte cars when the program started.

Vlotte started with 30 cars in 2009, adding 100 the following year. There are now about 300 cars in the program. The first cars were the Think City small EV. That was the only choice in the beginning. Mitsubishi i-MiEVs came next, quickly followed by converted electric Fiat 500s and electric Peugeot Partners from Venturi. Other models will be added as soon as they become available. (The Nissan LEAF currently isn't available in Austria.)

Getting Better and Faster

The Vlotte project got a big pat on the back last week with the opening of Austria's first fast charge station. Previously, all public chargers were standard 240V requiring several hours, but ABB—a large Swiss corporation which is a world leader in power and automation technology—opened three fast charge stations last Thursday. Providing strong DC current, they enable Vlotte customers to recharge in 30 minutes or less—depending on the car. More fast charge stations are expected to open in the coming months.

The ABB Terra DC fast charger

The ABB Terra DC fast charger.

Of course, 300 cars doesn't sound big, but that's not the right way to look at the Vlotte project. What matters is that the 300 Austrians are driving EVs on green electricity today. Without Vlotte, most of them would still be running their cars on fossil fuels. The program is partially funded by the Austrian government, with the goal to reduce CO2 emissions. It needs to get larger, but most industry watchers believe the project is off to a good start. It shows what can be done when car manufacturers and green electricity providers work hand in hand in a small place. It's running at a loss right now, but it's expected to become self-sustaining before long. Which enlightened municipality, maybe in the US, will be the first to copy it?

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