In France, EV Innovation Hits la Rue

By · April 02, 2013

In France, EV Innovation Hits la Rue

You might have guessed that the United States, Germany, or even Israel would be the proving ground for the latest innovations in electric vehicles (EVs), but, in fact, France is where the technology is becoming part of everyday driving.

Carshare programs featuring EVs have expanded rapidly on the streets of Paris. The Autolib program is now nearly 2,000 cars strong, as both locals and tourists are becoming comfortable with electric drive and short term vehicle borrowing.

Recently, Autolib auto provider Bollore Group announced that it will begin retail sales of its EVs. Bollore is offering the innovative business model of selling the vehicles and leasing the batteries separately, becoming the second French company (after Renault) to do so. Battery leasing is more of a psychological marketing tool that splits up the upfront cost of the vehicle and the monthly operational cost (i.e., the battery lease) to make it easier to compare EVs with conventional cars and their fuel costs, but if it continues to be popular with customers, other companies may adopt the strategy.

Think Small – Really Small

Renault offers battery leasing on the tiny Twizy, which has been hailed as the best-selling EV in Europe. Getting consumers to buy into a smaller-than-smart-car are feats of both engineering and marketing. Renault and ally Nissan have developed the strongest EV maker partnership, and the tandem recently crossed the 70,000 mark in EV sales.

Renault, Peugeot Citroën, Nissan, and other players from across Europe will be presenting at the eCarTec Paris conference and trade fair on April 16-18, where I’m looking forward to learning more about other upcoming developments in e-mobility.

Another EV car share program will launch next year in Grenoble, France, where Toyota is partnering with the City of Grenoble, Grenoble-Alpes Métropole, Cité Lib, and EDF. The “last-mile” project looks to use shared emissions-free cars to close the gaps around public transport while reducing the overall use of personally-owned vehicles. The project will feature 70 EVs, including Toyota’s COMS vehicle and a new model based on the i-ROAD concept that recently debuted with much fanfare at the Geneva Motor Show.

Thinking small – in vehicle size, cost of personal transit, and emissions footprint – is catching on rapidly in haut couture Paris, and this trend is not likely to go out of fashion anytime soon. The lessons learned in the marketing and logistics of EVs in France are becoming the blueprint for sustainable transportation everywhere.

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