Paris Autolib' Bluecar Deployed

Late last year Paris deployed a trial of its new electric car sharing scheme called Autolib’, the vehicular version of the now established and popular Velib’ bike sharing system that inspired London’s Boris Bikes.  It was, however, only on the 5th of January this year that the fleet came out in force with 250 cars on the streets of Paris. With more than 6,000 people having signed up within the firs few weeks the group aims to get 3,000 cars in service by the end of the year.  The practicality of this kind of undertaking in a city as crowded and spatially challenged as Paris was probably not very ‘logical’ to say the least. The introduction scheme in also rumoured to essentially be a decision and commitment made by 3 men, Bertrand Delanöe, mayor of Paris, Nicolas Sarkozy, president of France, and Vincent Bolloré, owner of Bolloré; Delanoë sparked the idea with his visionary bike sharing system Velib’, Sarkozy approved the idea, and Bolloré financed the dream.  Put them together and you have the first scheme of its kind in the world, and guess what?  It works!

Hiring a bike for the day, which involves a lot of impersonal interaction with an information tower that simply takes your credit card details, is a simple process compared to a first encounter with Autolib’.  The Autolib’ experience entails searching for a registration ‘bubble’, not available at all hiring stations, but clearly marked on their website, not to be confused with that is a car sharing scheme in Lyons…confusing.  Then if you are lucky you will spend the next half hour hoping you can get in touch with an operator, and when you do watch out because they are trained to be friendly, too friendly!  After overcoming some suggestive banter we got down to the business of registering our ID, license, and credit card by scanning it on a screen (anyone from any country can use the service).  More unsolicited banter and a magical card is printed right there and then that will gain you access to your electric aluminium chariot.  If you are not into this kind of personal contact then best to register for a year and get a permanent pass, not a 24-hour trial pass like we did for 10 euros.

The car’s roots go back to a bubble design of the Bluecar in 2006 at the Geneva Motor Show, however today’s incarnation is a direct derivative of Pininfarina designed B0 production car that debuted at the Paris Auto Show 2008.  Penned by Lowie Vermeersch, designer of some of the first and finest green car designs the Sintesi and Nido, the Bluecar was due to go into production in 2009.  Economies failed, business plans fumbled, and the project got delayed and the design got morphed into, what must be to the elegant Parisians, an eyesore.  Sadly the original lightness of lines and materials that made the original Bolloré B0 so inspirational have been clumsily translated into the current Autolib’ Bluecar, thus making this ‘first of its kind’ radical integration of an electric car sharing scheme into a city like Paris visually anti-climatic. 

Bolloré Bluecar 2006


Bolloré Bluecar by Pininfarina 2008

Bolloré Bluecar by Pininfarina 2008

Once you get over its heavy, frigid, unpainted aluminium body and the garish ‘un-designed’ stickers plastered all over the car the interior smacks you in the face with commonplace.  Plain is not a word I would associate with French or Italian design but disappointingly the interior of the car goes beyond that, it is spartan.  This is understandable considering the rife vandalism that plagued the initiation of Velib’ and our current frugal economic times, yet it seems like a missed opportunity to design something more provocative to address these very issues.  Had they considered the environmental impact as well that would have added to the scheme’s ‘no emissions’ credibility but the car seems to have been made on the cheap with no eco-materials in sight.

Getting over the design faux pas driving the Bluecar around Paris without a sound was the most rewarding experience.  The lack of internal combustion noises heightens your sense of the city and quickly intimates the driver with pedestrians.  Many a time we had to wait for pedestrians crossing the street without looking to move because they couldn’t hear the car; Paris being Paris this can go one of two ways, very rudely (most often) or very excitedly.  The environmental impact is immediately obvious, reduced noise pollution, reduced emissions, and reduced congestion.  Most people living in a city don’t need a car on a regular basis, with the Auolib’ you can have the benefit of a car without the hassle of owning one.  Best of all you can always find a parking space!  So, whilst it came to us as a great surprise from a design standpoint that Autolib’ has been nominated for the Design Museum’s Design Awards 2012, “the Oscars of the design world”, we agree that Bertrand Delanöe, and his team, have truly achieved something quite spectacular…it works.

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