Electric Cars: Time to level the playing field

Electric cars inspire dreaming, not only on the part of some consumers, observers and enthusiasts but also vanguard citicar-2by public authorities who are trying hard to work their way out of the twin-headed hydra of finding the difficult path to sustainable transport in cities, and in many cases also having to deal with an auto industry in painful transition. As someone who drove a small ecar every day for ten years in Paris traffic (see attached pic), I personally found it a grand way to get around the city. But is that the crux of the issue here? I think not.

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Op-Ed. Italian Perspectives on Carsharing: Past Practices, Future Prospects

ICS Car sharing genova This report on carsharing history, practices and prospects in Italy is contributed by Carlo Iacovini who has been one of the most active figures in the development of the industry in Italy since he became actively involved in planning and developing new carsharing systems in 1996.

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Autolib’ to the starting line

This weekend saw the first public testing of the much bruited Autolib’ carshare project currently getting underway here in Paris. And as you wait for our in-depth coverage, on-the-spot  interviews and film  we thought you might find it handy to refresh your understanding of the basic objectives and challenges, with this reprint of our 10 December 2010 article in which we try to take a balanced view of this ambitious transportation project.  You will be hearing a lot more about Autolib’ in the coming months. If it works, it will be a major transformative project and will make a lot of people start to think in quite different terms about how they are going to get around in the city in the future. (For a quick print update try here and here.  And for a short video, here) Continue reading

EVs: First clarification on impact in cities

It is hard to sort out if electric cars are or are not going to be a force in the move to sustainable transportation and sustainable cities. The media gives a lot of space to them, there is something admittedly attractive about them, but what is the real bottom line? We decided to ask the people closest to these issues to share their views here.

- Michael Glotz-Richter reporting from Bremen Germany


Thanks for asking Eric. We’ve studied the issue here in Bremen over some years and the following two images summarise our main findings. I’m pleased to share them with the readers of World Streets and invite comments and challenges.

Here is what one street looks like today, without any electric cars that I know of:

And in the second photograph, you see what the same street would look like with a 100% conversion to electric cars. Very edifying we think:

The point is, of course, that technology alone isn’t the answer. And in fact, there is a danger that with electric vehicles, we may even end up with more cars on our streets. That’s why it’s crucial that any new “clean” technology – electric or otherwise – be integrated with measures to preserve our precious urban space – like cycling, public transport, and especially Car-Sharing.

I’m not sure if that’s answered your question or just opened up yet other ones . . .

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From the editor: We welcome similar before/after EV photos of your city. And of course your comment.

- Michael Glotz-Richter, michael.glotz-richter@umwelt.bremen.de, is Senior Advisor Sustainable Mobility, Senate Department for Environment, Construction, Transport and European Affairs, Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, Germany

Common sense on "next generation" carsharing – Paris, London EV proposals

[The following piece of this date graciously shared with us by the author and the Climate Change Group ]

Could London follow Paris with electric car sharing?]

18 Mar 2009 | Author: Toby Procter | -

Boris Johnson’s electric cars will not be as green as those powered by the French, so why not just hop on a bus instead?

Aiming to make London the ‘electric capital of Europe’, London Mayor Boris Johnson told the London assembly on 25 February that a working group was considering a plan along the lines of the Autolib’ electric car rental scheme planned for Paris for 2010, and wanted to greatly expand support for charging points around London.

Johnson hoped for a “sizeable chunk” of the £250m government funding for electric vehicle initiatives, and added that he wanted to see at least half the 8,000-vehicle fleet owned by the Greater London Authority replaced by electric vehicles as soon as possible, while warning that considerable sums were necessary in order to invest in a technology that is “almost there … but not quite”.

Last October, the Paris authorities announced plans for an ‘Autolib’ electric car-sharing scheme to do on four wheels what the successful Vélib bicycle sharing scheme has done on two. Paris proposes 2,000 EVs to be available from 200 city centre underground car parks and 500 parking bays, and another 2,000 in the city’s suburbs. These vehicles could be booked online, picked up in one bay and left in another at the journey’s end.

Electric cars still have teething problems. Problem one is that these cars – some are not technically cars, but ‘quadricycles’ such as the REVA and Aixam Mega – are produced in small numbers and cost more than comparable ordinary cars, despite offering limited range, utility and space.

Problem two is the infrastructure EVs need, given their batteries’ present shortcomings. Most EVs’ batteries need recharging for 7-8 hours after around 100 miles. The 40 Elektrobay street-side recharging units already in place in London cost around £7,500 per unit installed – multiply that by 700 units as with the Paris scheme – and it adds up to a huge sum of cash.

Then there’s the cost of telematics and accounting systems and associated hardware to charge users for the ‘juice’ and the rentals. Elektromotive, the UK firm which has supplied London’s recharging points to date, recently signed an agreement with the Renault-Nissan Alliance, which hopes for global EV market leadership from the launch of its first electric cars in 2012, but solutions to large-scale recharging/parking infrastructure issues remain unproven.

London is likely to start, as have some other local authorities, by buying more electric vehicles for the GLA fleet, whose journeys start and end at depots where off-road recharging units can more easily be installed.

To date, car sharing clubs have remained small-scale, though in London, the City Car Club saw membership rise 109% last year, and rival Whizzgo’s rose 42%. One such company might take on the management of an EV sharing scheme. But it would provide electric car access only to the few, so might not deserve big subsidies.

The question of whether electric cars in London are the greenest option should also be asked. France relies on nuclear energy for around 80% of its electricity and therefore has a much lower carbon electricity supply than the Brits.

And according to estimates cited by the French EV maker Aixam, on average people only need cars in London for 4-mile journeys. Might they be better off taking a bus? Improving bus services might cut urban CO2 emissions more efficiently than a token fleet of electric cars available only to the few.

However London decides to pump-prime electric transport, the Mayor should reflect on the fact that some of the latest small diesel cars from European manufacturers emit CO2 emissions below 100gm/km, well below the 2012 limit proposed by the EU, and scarcely more than the average 87g/km calculated for electric cars by the UK’s King Review of Low Carbon Cars, factoring in the UK’s renewables-poor generation mix.