Friday, December 02, 2011

Electrifying Carsharing

(Note to readers: this article has been significantly updated since the original posting.)

With the arrival of highway-capable battery electric vehicles (EVs), a number of carsharing companies are adding them to their fleets.  And it's happening all over the world.  Here are some of operations and concepts that caught my attention.

In the North America many of the operations are adding Nissan Leafs, since it was the first vehicle in wide availability but Mitsubishi iMievs are becoming available.  
  • Hertz On Demand — New York City has been busy adding Nissan Leafs and other vehicles to their New York City operation.  Although not widely publicized they offer one-way trips between many of their parking locations.  Although they don't offer city-wide carsharing in other cities, they do offer EVs in San Francisco and Washington DC, as well as London.  Hertz has set out a goal of 1,000 EVs systemwide by the end of 2012.
  • CommunAuto — Montreal & Quebec City; has had a long interest in EVs, starting with a proposed Branché project in 2003; possibly the first carsharing service to add battery EVs in North America; will add 50 Nissan Leafs in 2012.
  • car2go — San Diego; opened for business on November 18 with Smart ED (electric drive) in one-way service over a large area of downtown (including the airport) and adjacent neighborhoods.
  • Getaround — And then there's Getaround P2P carsharing using the Tesla Roadster as their signature vehicle for marketing; now they have 3 privately-owned Teslas enrolled - at $50 per hour ("gas and insurance included").  They've also undertaken to recruit EV owners through a marketing campaign with
  • City Carshare — Announced plans to power half it's fleet with renewable energy; they will do this using Renewable Energy Credits (REC) from 3 Degrees.
  • I-Go — Chicago, with great fanfare (deservedly) announced not one but plans to add 11 solar powered charging stations for Mitsubishi iMievs they will adding to their fleet in 2012. Each station, from 350 Green. will cover 4 parking spaces and house 2 I-Go EVs and have room for charging two other EVs. Congratulations IGO!
(Arguably, the first EV carsharing was the Electrovaya Altcar service at the Baltimore Science Center starting in 2009, but it is defunct now.)
    France — EVs from major manufacturers have been available in France continuously since the 1980s and France started the first EV carshare in 1999.
    • Auto Bleue — Nice; the first EV carsharing in France; round-trip service model; a very well funded partnership with Veolia Transport, EDF (the French electric utility) and Transdev; launched in the spring of 2011 with 15 stations 61 vehicles; eventual goal is 70 stations and over 200 vehicles; telematics by Vulog.  "Nice" logos, too, as they say in Nice,)
    •  Autolib — Paris; Group Bolloré started it's one-way EV carsharing last week month with the official launch of 250 "Blue Car" vehicles less than a year after signing the contract with the City of Paris.  Pricing is the same as somewhat similar car2go service with Smart EDs in Amsterdam (see below) - 0.29 € per minute.  (I will have a more complete report about Autolib soon.)
    • Yelomobile — La Rochelle; rebranded successor to Liselec, the oldest EV carshare (started 1999) operated by the city; with an upgrade from Veolia Transport which integrates the brand (and the member card) with city's Yelo buses and public parking operations.
    •  Cité Vu— Antibes (southern France); operated by telematics supplier VuLog allows round trip and one way service between 6 locations.
    • Carbox — Toulouse; Carbox is a unique business to business carsharing service, primarily in Paris, but also provides fleet carsharing to Airbus in Toulouse, recently announced they would be adding 15 Citroen C-Zeros (Mitsubishi iMievs) to the 150 vehicles they currently provide the aircraft manufacturer.  

    Spain seems to be suddenly very active in EV carsharing, with several demonstration projects:
    • CochEle — Sevilla; This is by far the largest operation 6 stations and 16 Peugeot iON (Mitsubishi iMievs) vehicles; rates are 4.95 € per hour or 19.95 € day + 0.29 € per kilometer (I'm a little mystified why they charge so much for "fuel"?)  Cochele has announced a partnership with NH Hotels (major hotel chain in Spain) showing the MIT folding City Cars now being built in Spain (no details)
    • E:sharing — Sagunto (just north of Valencia, on the Mediterranean); using Th!nk vehicles; currently with 2 stations
    • SareCar - Ataun (northern Spain; tiny village of only 1,500 people); demonstration project with 2 Th!nk vehicles.
    Elsewhere in Europe — 
    • Move About — offers carsharing with Th!nk EVs in corporate fleet sharing service as well as public carsharing in Oslo, Norway (80 vehicles), Copenhagen, Denmark (launched this month); and Goteborg (Gothenberg) Sweden 5 vehicles in a science park.  Here's a nice video (in English) showing the service.
    • GreenWheels — started adding their first Peugeot Ion to their fleet in Amsterdam in July with plans to add 25 EVs total, 7 more in that city, as well as additional vehicles in Utrecht and Rotterdam.
    • car2go — Amsterdam; expects to have all 300 Smart Electric Drive models deployed by the end of the year; rates are slightly lower than car2go in other cities (0.29 € per minute; 12.90 € per hour and 39 € per day)
    Japan was one of the earliest countries to offer EV carsharing, but took some time out until the current generation of EVs.  Several Japanese auto makers have announced EV carsharing —Nissan (partnering with Mitsububishi in Kyoto) and Toyota (at housing developments in Tokoyo and Nagoya using IQ EV vehicles).  These build on innovative demonstration projects in the 1990s at the manufacturer's corporate campuses -- a project on the Toyota campus using their earlier generation "Crayon" vehicle; and the Honda ICVS project (which currently sponsors the Intellishare program at UC Riverside and once had Honda EVs; as well as the DIRACC one-way carsharing program in Singapore; currently testing in EVs in various commuter projects.

    Several independent development concepts have also been announced.  One called the "Green Cross-over Project" would locate EVs at convenience stores and equip them with vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities.  Another would use home delivery storage lockers, which already have security features, to make carsharing vehicle keys available to members.

    China, which has been very active in developing all sorts of electric mobility - e-bikes, a variety of cars, now a EV carsharing service has launched:
    • EVNet — Hangzhou; arguably the first carsharing in China (and joins the largest public system in the world); has 15 vehicles at 4 rental locations near university and office park, both gas and Chery EV (surprisingly their signature Smart car is gasoline Smart not the Chinese knock-off electric Smart). Thanks to Lewis Chen of Invers for this tip and to the Team Red (my consulting firm) man in Shanghai, Dominik Villaret, for update that rates are between $3 - $5 per hour  They have good support from the city government.  Watch this short video.
    The future of EV carsharing?

    Given the high cost of battery-electric vehicles themselves, plus the cost of charging stations, carsharing and EVs seem like a logical relationship. I have recommended to cities I've worked with, that if they are obtaining EVs and charging stations for their city fleet they consider partnering with a local carshare to make these vehicles available to the general public, while still having access to them for city employee use.  Such application also better utilizes the charging stations.   Since carsharing offers a variety of vehicle types, members can select whether an EV is the right type of vehicle for the type of trip they're planning to make — replacing more trips with vehicles that are the cleanest operating.  The carsharing company should be able to keep an EV in use much more than most private individuals could.   

    The installation of solar charging stations overcomes one of the major drawbacks to current battery EVs - instead of recharging from electricity generated from coal-fired power plants, these EVs would be truly renewable transportation.

    In the long run some transportation experts believe there will be fleets of shared very light shared EVs, even smaller than Smart cars, in major cities.  These might look like the Renault Twizzy or other light vehicle designs not yet thought of.

    Meanwhile in the present, one of the important operational questions all carsharing operators are asking themselves is how often members won't accurately judge the range of their trip and find themselves stranded a long way from home; and what will they do about it.  As of now, there aren't any AAA trucks with quick chargers cruising the streets.  Car2go has got an even more complex situation to manage.  They don't require that vehicles be returned to a charging station so really have to depend that members will look at the fuel level reported on the web or app to decide which vehicle to take.

    Where is Zipcar on the on the question of EVs?  They have been cautious (or perhaps "strategic", depending on your point of view). Only 2 years ago Scott Griffith was quoted that Zipcar would "not be going electric anytime soon".  Earlier this year they did announce a partnership with Toyota to place a number of Prius Plug In Hybrids in several Zipcar cities, so they've arguably gone at least partially electric!  For them to implement battery EVs would require a not insignificant upgrade to their system to be able to manage vehicle battery state of charge so that members would get a vehicle with sufficient range to meet their needs.

    As EV technology improves (particularly range and recharge times) and vehicle costs come down (or subsidies increase) my guess is Zipcar will be increasingly interested.

    CommunAuto, one of the most skillful companies in building partnerships, explains their approach pretty well in these slides from their Nissan Leaf partnership launch event.

    If you know of other interesting or exemplary EV carsharing services or concepts.  Please let me know and I'll add them to this post or create new ones.  Thanks.