Bubble cars to provide jolt to Paris motoring

Fri Sep 30, 2011 7:00am EDT
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By Elena Berton

PARIS (Reuters) - Bubble-shaped vehicles will appear on Paris streets next week which billionaire entrepreneur Vincent Bollore hopes will help clear the traffic-clogged arteries of the French capital as well as providing a charge to his nascent battery business.

The electrically powered Autolib cars will be available for hire in a two-month trial starting October 2 at 4 to 8 euros per half hour to motorists prepared to pay a membership fee starting at 10 euros for a day of driving.

The 235 million euro ($321 million) project is the brainchild of Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who hopes to duplicate the success of Velib, the bicycle-sharing scheme he launched in 2007 and which has been copied by several cities in France and abroad.

It's also a potential showcase for Bollore's eponymous industrial conglomerate, which is making the BlueCar vehicles involved in the scheme and which are based on a lithium-metal-polymer battery, a different technology from the lithium-ion batteries other car makers are using.

Bollore told journalists on Friday he expected the project to make a profit in a number of years. "We estimate that it will be profitable from the seventh year, and an industrial group like ours is used to (its investments) turning a profit from the sixth or seventh year," he said.

The scheme echoes increasingly popular car clubs such as City Car which allow members to hire a local car for as little as an hour at a time.

"We want to persuade people to shift from the concept of owning a car to that of using a car," Autolib General Manager Morald Chibout told Reuters.

The city of Paris has spent 35 million euros ($47.8 million) in building the car rental stations, while neighboring communes have contributed 50,000 for each station.   Continued...

<p>Former French Formula One champion Alain Prost drives a BlueCar Electric Concept Car during a news conference in Le Bourget, north of Paris, February 3, 2006. REUTERS/Franck Prevel</p>