Electric charge with car-sharing

2011-09-16 12:29

Montreal - In a Montreal parking lot, Jean-Francois Beauchamp unhooks a power cable from his loaner car and cheerfully drives away, an enthusiastic user of a new service that is finding fans in equal measure among commuters and environmentalists.

"It's very quiet, pleasant and doesn't use gasoline," said Beauchamp, 44, a web designer and frequent user of the electric cars made available for hourly rental by the Communauto car-sharing enterprise.

His loaner vehicle is one from a fleet of petrol-free cars pointing the way forward for the increasingly popular car-share industry, which unlike a traditional car rental, allows customer to hire a vehicle for part of one day.

The Montreal-based Communauto, the oldest car-sharing company in North America, in mid-August launched the pilot project with 50 Nissan Leaf vehicles, hoping to become an industry leader of the electric loaner cars.

Communauto also is a bargain, charging about $2 (€1.50) per hour, which includes the cost of fuel, plus a subscription fee.


Electric cars early on met with consumer resistance, but the chance to try out the vehicles in a low-risk car-share has helped to greatly increase their popularity.

"I already have a car, but I subscribed to Communauto precisely because I wanted to try out an electric car," said new convert Georges Charlebois.

Charlebois now dreams of when he'll no longer have to rent one by the day or by the hour. That day may be a long way off, however: There is a waiting list for the vehicles at his local dealership.

The most ambitious electric car-sharing plan is wildly popular, but has a downside, Beauchamp admitted.

"You have to plan ahead because you can't stop at a gas station to fill it up," he said ruefully.

Communauto has tried to alleviate that problem, installing - in partnership with the giant public utility Hydro-Quebec - car charging stations in parking lots all across Montreal.

Devoid of a conventional combustion engine, the loaner cars - emblazoned with the slogan "100% electric" - are famously quiet, so not only do they not increase air pollution, but they don't add to the city's noise pollution, either.

Marketing masterstroke

Most of the electric cars can go about 140km before needing to be recharged - although the batteries become partially replenished when the brakes are pressed, or when the vehicle is driven downhill.

Benoit Robert, CEO of Communauto, said that the company is excited about the addition of the green cars to its fleet.

"The electric car will allow us to further reduce emissions from our users," he said.

The popularity of the vehicles already is having an ecological upside, he added.

"We already are having a significant impact on reducing the rate of motorised car use by the population and this has a direct impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Benoit said.

Catherine Morency, a professor at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, said the programme is a marketing masterstroke because of the synergy between the car-share and green car industries.

The arrangement also is a plus for manufacturers of green automobiles, because a wider range of renters - and potential purchasers - try out the cars before purchase.


But the two industries part ways in terms of their long-term goals: While makers of green cars are hoping to put a lot more of them on the road, Communauto seeks, in the end, to reduce the number of cars in circulation.

Car-sharing will convert at least some motorists to the electric car, thereby increasing the demand for these vehicles, predicted popular automobile columnist Denis Duquet.

"The production will increase, prices will drop and people who have used the electric car in Communauto are likely eventually to buy their own," Duqet predicted.

  • thabatao - 2011-09-16 13:09

    In South Africa it will be R1000 an hour, to pay the BEEE guys' house and family and friends.

  • Currie_Mafia - 2011-09-16 13:17

    There we go !

  • Hendri - 2011-09-16 14:30

    It is actually laughable to see that people think electric cars are the way of the future. A question to ask your self is where and how were the batteries made? Where does the electricity for the recharge come from? How long is the battery lifetime? If you think about it, the only way electric cars will be sustainable, is if electricity became sustainable. And the only way to do that is to use bio-fuels. But why then drive and electric cars when a bio-fuel driven one would be just as good?

      Philosopher - 2011-09-16 15:27

      Yes Hendri. It's clear that you work in a fossil fuel industry. Start looking for other career options. Electric is coming soon..

      Ernst - 2011-09-16 16:19

      @Henri: Where do you think the electricity comes from that is used to refine oil into petrol and diesel? Even if dirty electricity is used to charge electric cars, they are still much greener than petrol and diesel cars. As far as batteries are concerned: Do you know what type of battery is currently used in electric cars?

      Hendri - 2011-09-18 11:01

      @Philisipher: You cannot be more wrong in that statement. Clearly you either do not understand the term "Bio-fuel" or you just misread my comment. I do forestry, so it is quite the opposite. @Ernts: I understand that electricity is "cleaner" than pertol, but it is also not sustainable while is is being generated from fossil fuels and nuclear sources. Renewable energy from plankton, trees, waste etc. is, or at least should be, the way of the future. Also only if it works in conjunction with wind-, hydro- and possibly solar energy. As for the batteries, it should be Lithium (Lithium-Ion) batteries which should have an expected lifetime of 3-5 years depending on the usage. Replacing them and producing them will also need to change since scarce mineral resources are mined to produce them. Hope that answers the question^^

  • Worker - 2011-09-16 15:26

    In SA it could not work - someone would steal the cables. The pity about this is that there is always a willing buyer - the scrapyard.

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