Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Renault in a Twizy over Carsharing

Auto manufacturer Renault has started a new chapter in the history of carsharing with the announcement of a new carsharing service using their innovative Twizy lightweight electric vehicle.  Twizy Way will launch June 21 in the French city of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines about 25 miles southwest of Paris.

According to the Renault press release about 50 vehicles will be available for one-way/on demand service for 3 months with public availability starting in September.  Vehicles will not have fixed home stations but can be parked anywhere in a large area of the town (27 sq. km = about 10 square miles), similar to the parking strategy of car2go.

The Twizy is the first mass production (relatively-speaking) battery electric urban runabout.  It looks like a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) in the US but is not speed governed, as it would be if it were in the US, and can go as fast as 50 mph.  In Europe it is licensed as a quadricycle.

Here's good introduction to the Twizy from a British TV show.

The French have a long and glorious tradition with EV carsharing for the past 20 years - starting with the Liselec program in La Rochelle, as well as newer EV services in Autobleue in Nice and CityVu in Antibes. 

Remember Praxitele?

Presumably it is not by accident that Renault selected Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines for their demonstration test of the concept -  since in 1997-98 it was the location for another Renault-sponsored, but  even more innovative carsharing demonstration, also using lightweight electric vehicles - Praxitele.  In this project 48 vehicles were located at 5 stations around town.  The technical sophistication of the system was  remarkably close to carsharing as we now know it.  It was research project led by the French research agency INRIA with a number of partners.

This description of the Praxitele project may sound familiar:

This new service is focused on trips and time where the demand is low and where public transport does not offer good quality service. Its utilisation is restricted to local areas from several hundred meters to several kilometres in length.

The service was opened to spontaneous customers who register with the service, and the service is not free even though the applied fares are still preferential. After a six month period of operational adjustment, the service was proposed for self service ; used with 48 cars, 14 stations, 24h/24, 7 days a week.

Praxitele may be the missing link between public mass transportation, very efficient but not very flexible, and the private automobile which offers total freedom but at a high cost for the user, and furthermore for the society. 

Here's a nice video showing the Praxitele system in operation, as well as some of the autonomous vehicle development by INRIA. 

(Sorry, I couldn't resist the temptation of this blog title! - Dave)