Car Sharing Goes Electric

Car-sharing services around the world are starting to embrace electric vehicles.

Either paying by the hour for their car curbs drivers’ wanderlust, or car sharers just don't have far to go. While the average American drives between 30 and 40 miles a day, Zipcar users' average trip length clocks in below 25 miles. Since most existing electric vehicles can make it triple that distance, it makes sense that car-sharing services around the world are starting to embrace EVs.

This weekend, Autolib launched 66 electric “Bluecars” on the streets of Paris. The French company, backed by the government, plants to have a fleet of 250 EVs by the end of the year, and thousands available in the next few years. Autolib is planning one of the more ambitious shared electric vehicle rollouts, but the company isn't the first to turn out electric cars to the masses. In Montreal, Communauto launched 50 Nissan Leafs. In Nice, Auto-Bleue has 84 EVs available. Car2go, a Daimler project, has hundreds of electric vehicles in car sharing program in the German cities Ulm and Hamberg and in Austin, Texas, and is planning to lend out hundreds more in Vancouver and in San Diego.

In some cases, car shares are giving their members first crack at driving vehicles that aren’t available commercially. Zipcar members in Boston have had all year to test-drive Prius’ plug-in hybrids, which won’t be available for purchase in America until this coming spring, and then only in 14 Northeastern states.

Car shares could be electric vehicles’ back-door entrance to the mainstream. Most people aren’t eager to plunk down tens of thousands of dollars for technology that’s probably going to improve dramatically over the lifetime of a car purchased today. But the idea of taking an EV out for a spin is exciting, and with a car-sharing service, there’s little risk. Once potential car owners realize they can make it to the store and back without running out of juice, they’ll have that much greater a chance of getting over range anxiety and buying a car they can plug in.

But although Europeans are embracing EVs and smaller car shares programs in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago are jumping on board, Zipcar, America's biggest and best-known car service, has yet to incorporate many electric vehicles. Back in 2002, the company started using Toyota RAV4 electric SUVs, but most of its efforts have focused on hybrids. The eight plug-in Priuses the company put on the road in January can make it 13 miles at speeds up to 62 miles per hour on its battery alone, which means many trips would burn no gas.

The company is “actively testing” EV models this year and participating in grant programs to understand how well electric cars will work in a car-sharing model, says Greg Winter, a company spokesman.

“A shared model adds a layer of complexity to general concerns around the EV ‘state of charge’ since shared vehicles are used more heavily and by more people than personally-owned vehicles,” he says.

In other words, it’s no good planning to pick up your car share if you get in the driver’s seat and find it only has enough power to make it around the corner.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user justinpickard

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