Update on Parisian Autolib, Now Running Fine

By · April 18, 2012

A Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service

A Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service

The Parisian Autolib car-sharing service was launched with much fanfare last December, but many were quick to say that it didn't live up to expectations. They were right. They were several hiccups, technical glitches and numerous bugs. Cars had been built barely a few weeks before the service started, in a factory that began production only late last year. The stations were new, using mostly unproven technologies. Even the people, the guys who were there to help the first customers, had been hired only in September. Of course, several things didn't go as planned, but time and experience pretty much corrected them all. The Autolib service is now running the way it should. And it's been growing.

A Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service

A Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service

The Bolloré group has been adding about 50 cars each week (704 exactly on the first quarter). There are now more than 1,000 cars on the streets. There should be 1,750 by late June. The number of stations too, has been increasing. There are today more than 400 Autolib stations in Paris and the surrounding cities, with more than 2,000 parking spots. We may say it's now relatively easy to find a car wherever you are in the French capital, and then a parking spot close to your destination. This last point being particularly important because users pay by the minute. A user stops paying only when the car is parked and plugged back at the Autolib station. The user finally has to log off with his RFID card, and that locks the car. It's amazing that this RFID card is available at every Autolib station, without any prior registration. They all have a built-in scanner for a driver's license, a credit card reader, and a RFID card dispenser, which allow anyone to get behind the wheel of a car in minutes. I've been told the software has been written around the Django framework, but I had never heard of that before. I haven't tried the registration process, but I've had the opportunity to test-drive the car.

A Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service

A Bolloré Bluecar from the Parisian Autolib car sharing service

The Bolloré Bluecar has been through hard times. It was a superb concept from Pininfarina in 2008, and then a cheap looking econobox in 2010. It has been made a little better since then, but it remains far from the upmarket feel of the original Pininfarina design. All Autolib cars are painted a very Parisian grey, with grey inside too. The seats are made of a grey cloth which looks quite nice, but there are several cheap-looking hard plastic parts in the interior. I recognize the steering-wheel, some Lancia cars have it, too. Unsurprisingly, to keep the price down, they've used parts from other manufacturers. The Bluecar begins to move without any fuss. I remember someone said that they've softened the torque curve not to surprise anyone. If I had to rate the driving experience, I'll rate it below that of a Mitsubishi i-MiEV. I've pushed the car over 90 kph, and it had no trouble keeping that speed though. It sure gets the job done but don't expect any fun or excitement. This is where you understand what car-sharing is. Bluecars are not meant to be appealing to car lovers. Car lovers are easy to spot: they buy cars. But there are several hundreds of thousands of people who don't own a car in Paris. They manage to live their life with public transportation (the metro) and taxicabs, and I believe Autolib is made for them. They want something foolproof, easy to use and long-lasting. This is what the Bluecar delivers. It might also be available as a lease sometimes, but Bolloré still doesn't have any plan to sell cars.

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