Renault said on Wednesday it would launch its new service in September – a move that comes just as Autolib charging stations are stripped from the streets of Paris.
It plans to have up to 2,000 Zoé and Twizy model electric cars on the streets of Paris by the end of the year.
The carmaker is one of a number of companies hoping to capitalise on the early demise of the public enterprise Autolib whose fleet of distinctive grey cars will disappear by the end of this month after being mired in a debt crisis.
France’s PSA group – the makers of Peugeot and Citroën vehicles – also hopes to get a piece of the action by putting 500 cars on the streets of Paris by December while car hire firm Ada is looking at deploying a fleet of around 50 cars in the 11th and 12th arrondissements.
While downtown Paris residents may welcome the news of replacement services for Autolib, critics say the new program is too city-centric and won’t have anything like the reach of the failed service which was present in around 100 communes.
The Greens chief in Paris City Hall, David Belliard, said Renault had failed to address whether its service would be available in the greater metropolitan area.
In comments quoted by BFMTV, the politician said private operators would “assure you they would provide a public service and go where they are really needed” but in the end their business was “making a profit”.
From the right side of the political divide, Florence Berthout with the Republicans criticised the fact the city was rushing headlong into “another system about which we don’t really know anything”.
“Above all, the greater metropolitan area and the region are being ignored,” she said.
Renault have yet to provide pricing details for their new service, but it is known the cars will be able to use the 3,244 parking places made vacant by the departure of Autolib, as will other new competitors in the carsharing market.
Unlike with Autolib, users of the service will not be able to reserve parking spots. However, the cars’ GPS will guide drivers to available locations.
The Autolib contract was supposed to run until 2023. However, in a shock move elected representatives of the SAVM union (Autolib’ Velib’ Métropole) in June called for the plug to be pulled on the service.
The scheme after it emerged that Autolib, which was originally supposed to make a profit of €56 million by 2023, is actually in tens of millions of euros of debt.
The company behind the service, Blue Solutions, blamed the debt on competition from minicabs (VTC) but users also complained of filthy vehicles. In some cases, homeless people were even reported to be sleeping in the cars.