Indianapolis EV-sharing project folds after four years

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In 2015, French conglomerate the Bolloré Group opened an all-EV car-sharing service called BlueIndy in Indianapolis. Alas, BlueIndy announced plans to close last December, and terminated operations in May.

“This difficult decision to end the service has been made because we did not reach the level of activity required to be economically viable,” said BlueIndy in an email to customers. The company said 11,000 members took 180,000 rides over the course of four years.

The project cost about $50 million: $41 million was invested by the company, $6 million by the city, and $3 million by Indianapolis Power & Light. BlueIndy paid the city an annual $45,000 franchise fee.

Bolloré operated a similar service in Paris, called Autolib, which died in 2018. Other manifestations include BlueSG, which started up in Singapore in 2017, and BlueLA, which launched in Los Angeles in the spring of 2018.

Bolloré developed its own EV specifically for car-sharing, in collaboration with Renault: a two-door hatchback called the Bluecar, which has a range of 120 miles.

BlueIndy users reached by the local news outlet IndyStar gave the service mixed reviews. “The quality of the car was not good and kind of frightening because it is a lightweight car and did not handle well on the highway,” said one. Others complained that the experience was not user-friendly, and customer service was poor.

Some business owners were less than pleased about BlueIndy, and said they had not been consulted about the location of charging stations, some of which occupied scarce downtown parking spaces.

CarBuzz reported on BlueIndy’s demise under a clickbait headline (“City Sends Dozens Of EVs Straight To The Crusher”) that evoked memories of GM’s callous crushing of its EV1s, an infamy immortalized in the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Attention span-deficient EV fans posted indignant comments. However, those who took the time to read the article learned that only some of the program’s 282 vehicles were crushed, after their batteries were salvaged.

“Some of the cars with body damage are indeed being scrapped after the LMP batteries and key components/parts have been removed and stored,” said Blue Systems VP James Delgado. Undamaged vehicles will be transferred to BlueLA, and the batteries will be repurposed for energy storage projects.

The city hasn’t yet decided what to do with the system’s 90 charging stations. “We will work with neighbors, corporate partners, and personal mobility advocates to explore whether financially-sustainable options exist to put the electric charging infrastructure to use,” said Taylor Schaffer, the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff.

Erika H. Myers, a Principal of Transportation Electrification for the Smart Electric Power Alliance, characterized BlueIndy’s failure as “proof that new EV business models are risky. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth trying.” She notes that planners need to become “a lot savvier about consumer attitudes and business models for EVs and EV charging.”

Sources: IndyStar, CarBuzz