A fleet of small electric cars that people will be able to use and park anywhere is due to hit the streets of Paris next year.
The vehicles have two seats and a small boot and are expected to cost €25 for a monthly hire subscription, plus around €0.40 a minute to use.
Unlike Paris’s previous electric car sharing service, Autolib’, where vehicles had to be parked at charging stations, the new offering from Circle will be ‘free-floating’.
Batteries will have a range of around 80km. When they get low, an automatic message will alert the fleet manager, who will deploy a technician to drive out to the car and change the battery to a charged one.
Circle’s managing director Alain di Duca told The Connexion: “Autolib’ was a great pioneer but did not make money and came along before the smartphone and free-floating hires, which have transformed things.”
He founded the firm with Eric Boullier, a former racing director for the McLaren F1 team.
“We have looked closely at Autolib’ and taken the best from it and planned to get around the parts of it which were not so suitable,” Mr di Duca said.
One of the problems with the Autolib’ service was users leaving them dirty, with litter, including smelly fast food containers, sometimes making getting into them unpleasant.
Circle will tackle this by filming the interior of the car from the moment the doors are unlocked until the end of the hire, with users who leave litter being fined.
“There is another big, practical benefit to this – if anything gets left behind in the car, like a handbag, we can see it and send a message to the customer to pick it up,” said Mr di Duca.
Simple to drive
The cars, which will be assembled in France, will be “as simple to drive as possible,” he said, with an option for forward or reverse, an accelerator and brake, and an electronic screen providing speed and other information.
This will include an indication of how many kilometres users can drive on the current battery charge, which should correspond with the planned journey imported from their smartphone.
Mechanical problems or flat tyres will be registered automatically and can be fixed quickly.
The cars will have the same electric motor as the Citroën Ami sans permis, but instead of being limited to 45km/h, they will have a 70km/h top speed.
You will need a full licence to drive them.
Hire companies will be able to put their own branding on the cars and smartphone platform, and will in turn pay a monthly fee to Circle.
“We calculate that, for this to work, we will need around 2,000 cars in Paris, and hope to have that number by the end of 2023,” said Mr di Duca.
Munich and Berlin are likely to follow Paris, with Milan, Madrid and Amsterdam among other potential markets.
Cities in the UK, especially London, are also possible, and the company has not ruled out operating in the US too, although it will be difficult to change European safety standards to American ones.
There have been numerous attempts to replace Autolib’ in Paris, including one by Renault, but they have all failed to gain traction or make money for the operators.
Read more: Renault first to fill Autolib void in Paris
Mr di Duca said he is confident that the free-floating model – and having established urban mobility players such as Lime as clients – will give Circle the winning formula to succeed where others have not.
The company has raised enough money for its development and early expansion and is planning to list on the stock market next year.