November 30, 2018 14:34 CET
PARIS — PSA Group’s Free2Move mobility service has operated short-term rental fleets in dozens of cities on three continents — but not in Paris, where the automaker is based. That will change on Monday, when 550 Peugeot and Citroen electric vehicles will be available through a smartphone app.
The collapse this spring of of the Autolib service, a partnership between Bollore and the City of Paris, paved the way for PSA to enter the car-sharing market in the city, said Brigitte Courtehoux, the director of Free2Move and PSA’s mobility services business unit.
“We were in preliminary discussions for about a year about different kinds of mobility solutions,” Courtehoux said in an interview at the Paris city hall, where she introduced the service with Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “This is a big day for us.”
Hidalgo has pushed for a ban on diesel-powered vehicles from Paris, and the city has closed roads along the River Seine to all vehicles as well as added low-cost parking places at the city limits to encourage use of mass transit.
Courtehoux said another key was a new city rule that requires residents to pay for street parking, which has opened up about 12 percent more spaces. Users of PSA’s service can park free anywhere in the city, including in the old Autolib spaces.
“Without parking, you can’t have this kind of service,” she said.
Automakers are rushing to participate in car sharing, short-term rentals and other forms of mobility services, ahead of what many see as a major shift away from traditional car ownership. Though plans such are Free2Move may not be profitable now, automakers say they are learning valuable lessons for the future, when such services could involve fleets of autonomous vehicles.
Autolib’s 4,000 cars were “fixed point,” meaning they were tethered to a network of charging stations. In contrast, PSA’s vehicles — the Citroen C-Zero and Peugeot iON, both versions of the Mitsubishi iMiev — are “free floating,” with users unlocking them with a smartphone app and returning them anywhere in the city.
The cars are charged and cleaned overnight, a labor-intensive operation that Courtehoux said would be made easier when some of the old Autolib charging stations are returned to service.
Free2Move is both a fleet operator — in cities like Lisbon, Barcelona, and now Paris and Washington, DC — and a mobility-services aggregator. The smartphone app allows users to choose from an array of services and modes, from electric bikes and scooters to short-term rentals and peer-to-peer car sharing.
The operation in Washington, announced last month, is part of PSA’s strategy to re-enter the North American market. It is using Chevrolet vehicles, which Courtehoux said was a coincidence and not related to PSA’s former development agreement with General Motors. “As a fleet operator, we choose the best cars for our needs,” she said.
Courtehoux said PSA’s expectations that mobility services would generate 300 million euros in revenues by 2021 were on track, but she would not give specific profit or loss figures. PSA’s mobility services unit includes business-to-business fleet services, used-car sales and even an online car-repair locator platform.
PSA will be joined on the streets of Paris by Renault, which will be offering its own fleet of electric cars through the Moov’in brand. Courtehoux said she welcomed the competition, because it would show users that such services are a viable alternative to individual car ownership. They could also pave the way to future fleets of robo-taxis.
“It’s a good thing,” Courtehoux said about Renault’s service, noting that Parisians have an abundance of alternative mobility to choose from, including electric kick scooters such as Bird and Lime, electric street scooters and several car-sharing plans such as Drivy. “They are used to these kinds of solutions,” she said.
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