French billionaire to invest $35M in U.S. electric-car sharing service

The BlueIndy electric-car sharing service is slated to begin within eight months in Indianapolis. It will use as many as 500 of Bollore Group's Bluecars and 1,000 charging stations.

LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) -- French billionaire Vincent Bollore is setting up the largest U.S. car-sharing program for electric vehicles to promote advanced batteries and services offered by the conglomerate he leads.

Bollore Group, the holding company he chairs, is investing about $35 million to create the BlueIndy service in Indianapolis, the group said Monday in a statement. The program, beginning within eight months, will use as many as 500 of Bollore’s Bluecars and 1,000 charging stations, Bollore said in a telephone interview.

“We thought it would be good to start with a medium-size” U.S. city, said Bollore, whose company already runs similar programs in France. “We want to show the electric car is the best solution for the future.”

The U.S. arrival of the Bollore Group, which makes its own lithium metal polymer batteries for its electric cars, is the latest development in an emerging segment led by Tesla Motors, maker of the premium Model S sedan, and the Nissan Leaf electric hatchback. Bollore is counting on U.S. drivers who want access to a low-pollution alternative to gasoline-burning cars. They can be rented for as little as $10 an hour.

Bollore’s Bluecars, used in the Autolib car-share program in Paris, can travel about 150 miles per charge, he said. To break even in Indianapolis, which had about 835,000 people in 2012, the program needs at least 20,000 annual subscribers, Bollore said.

Blue’s batteries

Batteries made by Bollore’s Blue Solutions in France’s Brittany province are cheaper than lithium ion cells used in other electric cars, holding down the cost of his small vehicles, Bollore said. Along with expanding to other U.S. regions such as California, Bollore said he wants to offer his car-share service and electric vehicles to China and other markets.

“Until now, the electric car is only for rich people,” Bollore said. “We have a unique solution.”

Bollore Group, based in the Paris suburb of Puteaux, has assets in the transport, agriculture, energy and communications industries, including stakes in French advertiser Havas SA and Paris-based phone and entertainment company Vivendi SA.

Over 30 years, Bollore has transformed his family’s business from a struggling paper-mill into Bollore SA, a holding company with a market value of 12.9 billion euros ($17.7 billion) and interests in banking, media and shipping.

The company’s Bluecar was designed by Italy’s Pininfarina studio in Turin and produced nearby by Cecomp.

Vincent Bollore is the 10th-richest person in France, with an estimated personal fortune of $6 billion dollars, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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