Test driving an Autolib’ (in the snow)

I have never had the opportunity to try out Autolib’ on my recent trips to Paris, even though the service was launched over a year ago. On the day before the date that I had chosen to give the service a try, it snowed and snowed in the French capital.

I had planned the trial over a fortnight prior to the date and I had no idea that it would take place under these conditions. The day before I arrived, a white blanket covered the city which made the journey up there much more calm than usual.

Signing up for Autolib’ on the day

 

I found the Autolib’ subscription kiosk that was closest to my hotel using their dedicated iPhone app, and went to rue Remusat. When I went in, a surprise awaited me: a homeless man was using it for shelter. The subscription kiosks that have been set up are small glass cabins.
Who could blame him, especially given the biting cold outside? He politely welcomed me into the space where he had organized his things, and was obviously getting ready to eat. I had an irresistible urge to capture this odd situation with a photo, but I decided not to.
The counter was free and so I went up to it and started to sign up for the service. The entire process is handled through new technology: I connected with an Advisor via videoconference, and I gave him different pieces of information: surname, first name, address, email, and mobile/cell number and credit card details.

Next, I had to scan in my ID card and driving license. The process was very simple: I just had to place the documents in the spaces that were indicated, and the rest was taken care of.
I had to then decide which type of service I wanted to sign up for. Initially, I had intended to use the 1 day subscription, but Autolib’ also had a promotional offer: subscription costs were free for the 1 week subscription, and so I opted for this as it worked out cheaper for me in the end.
The validation of my subscription failed twice, as though a network problem had prevented the information from going through. The Advisor asked me to restart the process and everything worked this time. The booth gave me my Autolib’ badge and the Advisor gave me a few tips about getting started with the car. The call ended: I had been able to sign up for the service and I was ready to get started inside of 10 minutes.
I left the booth and said goodbye to my “landlord” who wished me an excellent day. The situation was surreal!

Renting a car

I went to the rental station and was asked to present my badge. On a screen, I was asked if I wanted to rent a car, and then to declare, on my honor, that my license was valid, and that I wasn’t under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The (badly) parked car in Lot no. 2 was mine.


The car was plugged in and I had to use my badge on the charging station at Lot no. 2 to release the charging cable and unplug the car. The connecter was identical to the one I use to recharge my Nissan LEAF, and so the process was quick. I closed the lid of the charging station and went to the car.

Getting started in an Autolib’ Bluecar

 

I had to use my badge at the front of the car to unlock the doors. I got in and sat in front of the steering wheel. The ignition key was attached to the dashboard with a short cord. I put the key in the ignition and the car greeted me with a “Welcome Yoann NUSSBAUMER” on the display panel.

A short, 2-minute video showed me how to use the car:

Prise en main d’une Bluecar Autolib

0:00 / 2:27

I learned how to open the boot to put my luggage in. There wasn’t an enormous amount of boot space, but enough to fit luggage for most trips. The seats in the back of the car seemed sufficiently comfortable for short trips. The rest of the car was “standard” and built for frequent use. No frills.

My objective was to get to the Gare de l’Est and I needed to use the GPS of the car because I don’t know the roads in Paris at all. The Bluecar’s GPS had several options: address, Points of Interest, Autolib’ stations. I tried all the options but it was impossible to find the Gare de l’Est because I didn’t know the exact address or the names of any of the streets near by.

So I used my Smartphone to find directions. According to the Autolib’ app, the station closest to the Gare de l’Est was Paris/Saint-Martin/168, and there were places available.

I put the address into the Bluecar GPS but the only destination that it would provide was Paris/Saint-Martin/243 – I’m not sure why. Oh well – I chose that destination and started the GPS. I was able to take off.

Driving an Autolib’ Bluecar

The car is pretty easy to get started with, like all electric vehicles. You just need to select the “Drive” mode, and then accelerate or brake. There was very little interior noise, apart from the music from the radio, which I quickly changed. I used the same screen as the GPS for find the radio stations. At this point, I noticed a slightly annoying detail – the GPS is installed quite low on the central console, which means that you have to momentarily take your eyes off the road to read the necessary information.

The Bluecar proposes 2 driving modes: a normal mode and an “ice” mode, which is recommended during snow or heavy rain conditions. I tried out the “ice” mode in the snow – it is indeed more “reassuring” on slippery surfaces. It cuts the torque and the tires skid a lot less. I didn’t check, but I don’t believe that the Bluecar is fitted with winter tires (to be confirmed).
As for the rest, there are very few things to flag in terms of driving ease. The car is sufficiently lively to be able to cut into lanes of traffic when necessary (even though I didn’t have a chance to test this because of the snow).
The battery of the Bluecar was full and I didn’t feel any problems in terms of autonomy. The car had done 8000 kms (4970 miles) already and the interior seemed to have been well used. The fabric had a couple of spots, and both the interior and exterior were not very clean, but nothing out of the ordinary either.
I decided to try the heating and it was a welcome surprise: I had the impression that the heating started quite quickly, even faster than the heating of my Nissan LEAF… in less than a minute, hot air was blowing through the vents. I was very comfortable in the Bluecar!
My route took me via the Eiffel Tour, and I had to stop and capture the moment!

I made a few detours to test the car in traffic. I felt that that visibility was blocked on my left side by the door mount, and that I might easily not notice a pedestrian on my left.

Returning the car back to an Autolib’ station

The GPS indicated that I had arrived at my destination, but I wasn’t able to see an Autolib’ station. Rather intrigued, I decided to drive on for another couple of hundred meters – and there it was. 3 charging stations were occupied and there was 1 free place. I drove up and saw that the place was free, but that there was no charging station to return the car to. I drove on and tried to find another charging station close by. I used the GPS and I found another station about 500m (550 yards) away. This time 4 places were available and I was able to return the car.

This process was also very simple: I parked the car, I used my badge on the charging station to open it, I plugged-in the car and I used the badge at the front of the car to lock it. My cell phone vibrated shortly after: I received an SMS from Autolib that stated that my rental had come to an end and showed me the total amount due:

“Autolib’: Your bank has agreed your pre-authorization request for up to 50.00 EUR. Your bank receipt is available in your Customer Account.”

“Thank you for choosing Autolib’. Your rental of car 766 was for 53 minutes and for an amount of 11.89 EUR.”

Conclusion

My impression is that Autolib’ is a very straightforward service if you are comfortable with using new technology. I wondered how people who are less at ease with these types of technology would manage. There is telephone assistance in the car, which would perhaps help them to get started.
The processes seem well in place and in the end it is very simple to sign up and rent a car. Apart from a couple of hiccups during the signing up process and with the GPS, everything worked without a glitch and the experience was very good.
I even forgot that I was driving an electric car, or perhaps as I am just used to it. I didn’t even think about autonomy, as my trip was within Paris, which is the case with the majority of trips made by Autolib’ users.
In the end, I think that Autolib’ is an excellent complement to the public transport facilities in Paris. The service encourages people not to use their own cars, which is positive. The bet that Bolloré took has paid off, and I hope that they are now able to develop the service in other cities. This French company has a unique know-how in this area, and should consider exporting the idea.
Autolib’ in brief:
– Launched on December 5, 2011
– Over 1 million individual rentals
– Over 54 000 users
– 735 charging stations in the Greater Paris area
– The average rental is for 40 minutes
– An annual subscription costs 12 euros (16 USD) a month and 5 euros (7 USD) per half hour

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3 comments for this post
  1. Josh wrote the 11/02/2013

    Hello and thank you for this article.

    I would like to ask you a few questions regarding Autolib’ :

    – Can tourists hire cars? What documents do they need?

    – Are the instructions on screen available in English?

    – How much does it cost?

    – How many people can fit in a car?

    – How many kilometers of autonomy do you have with a full battery?

    – What if my battery runs out? How can I recharge mid-trip?

    Reply
    • Yoann NUSSBAUMER, the author of the post, wrote the 28/03/2013

      Hi Josh,

      – I think tourist can hire cars, they need to have an ID, a driving licence and a credit card.

      – Instructions are available in English

      – Prices are available here: https://www.autolib.eu/subscribe/offer_choice_session/

      – 4 people can sit in the Bluecar

      – The range is approximately 250 km

      – You can charge in all the +700 charging stations in Paris

      Reply
    • Autolib' wrote the 28/03/2013

      Thank you Josh for your question and Yoann for your answers.

      I would like to ask you a few questions regarding Autolib’ :

      – Can tourists hire cars? What documents do they need?
      Tourists can in fact use our service by subscribing to it for a day, a week or a month, according to their stay in Paris region. To do so they will only need to go to one of our subscription kiosk with their ID/ passport, your national driving license if you are from Europe, an international one if you are not from any EU countries and your credit card (except AMEX).

      – Are the instructions on screen available in English?
      Yes, fortunately.

      – How much does it cost?
      As Yoann suggested you can visit our website to find the cost of our carsharing service, just beware that to use it you will need an access badge which can give you access to the stations and cars for a day, a week, a month or a year and the cost of the duration of your trip per minute.

      – How many people can fit in a car?
      The car is fitted for 4 persons max

      – How many kilometers of autonomy do you have with a full battery?
      The city range is approximately 250 km, if you take the highway it will drop to 150km with a full battery, but don’t worry we have now almost 5 000 charging points spread in 47 cities in Paris and its region, all mentioned in the GPS of the car.

      – What if my battery runs out? How can I recharge mid-trip?
      Your battery may not run out without having been notified in time. All our cars are connected to our customer service who will call you in the car to let you know the battery is low and that you have to go back to the closest Autolib’ station to recharge it and change the car if necessary.

      We hope our answers will be of help and would be happy to have you try our service during your next stop in Paris!

      The Autolib’ Team

      Reply
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