INDIANAPOLIS - A French company unveiled an electric car charging station Monday that's the first piece of a car-sharing service set to debut late this year in Indianapolis, giving drivers a chance to rent plug-in electric cars for errands and short excursions.
Bollore Group Chairman Vincent Bollore joined Mayor Greg Ballard for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the downtown charging station that's part of Bollore's $35 million plan for the system. The men also tried out a kiosk like those drivers will eventually use to rent one of the company's Bluecars.
Although the public can try out the cars for free starting Tuesday at the downtown site, the BlueIndy car-sharing service won't be up and running until year's end. That's when 125 cars will become available at 25 charging sites, including the city's airport, shopping and cultural districts.
Bollore Group, which makes the cars and their lithium metal polymer batteries, hopes to obtain National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approval this summer to use the cars in the U.S.
The company launched an electric car-sharing service in Paris in 2011 that now has 2,000 electric and 4,500 charging stations around the French capital and its suburbs. That system has had more than 5 million rentals and 145,000 subscribers, spurring car-sharing services in two other French cities.
Bollore said his company chose Indianapolis as the first North American city to get one of its car-sharing services in part because of its size -- it has 830,000 residents -- and Ballard's plan to convert the city's 3,100-vehicle fleet to electric, natural gas or hybrid vehicles by 2025.
"Indianapolis has always been sort of a green light in the world of cars. That's why we're happy to be here with you today," Bollore said.
Bollore said it will cost about $10 an hour to rent one of the Bluecars. Users will provide their identification and a credit card for the rentals, which include the cost of insurance. Their rentals will end when they park at one of the charging stations and plug the car in for a recharge.
He said the company will break even on its initial investment in Indianapolis within three to four years if it gets 20,000 customers a year paying about $80 a month to use the cars.
Ballard spokesman Marc Lotter said the car-sharing service should appeal to college students who don't have a car, downtown residents and workers, and companies that maintain fleets of corporate vehicles.
Ballard said IUPUI, just west of downtown, has expressed interest in the car-sharing service, and so have Butler University, the University of Indianapolis and Ivy Tech.
"They're all saying, `When can I get my car?' They know this is happening," he said. "This will really usher in a new era of transportation -- and freedom for a lot of people across the city."
Indianapolis Power & Light, which has a profit-sharing agreement with Bollore, will spend up to $16 million to install up to 1,000 charging stations to support the car-sharing service.
IPL spokeswoman Brandi Davis-Handy said the utility has asked state regulators for permission to pass those costs on to its 470,000 ratepayers. She said the number of charging stations IPL installs will be determined by the outcome of that rate case and how popular the Bluecars prove to be in the city.
Bollore Group plans to eventually have 500 electric cars in Indianapolis, which Lotter said would make BlueIndy the nation's largest all-electric car sharing system.
Two other U.S. communities, San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area, have electric car-sharing services, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.