A new global competitor in electric vehicles is entering the U.S. market with a disruptive business plan: It wants to win consumers without selling them any cars.
Bollore Group, a French electronics manufacturer with nearly $15 billion in sales last year, wants to begin bringing thousands of electric vehicles into the United States -- but only as urban ride-share vehicles.
More significantly, Bollore wants American consumers to think twice about buying a new EV. If it succeeds, Bollore would upend the strategies of automakers such as Nissan, General Motors, Tesla, BMW and others trying to sell EVs and plug-in hybrids.
Bollore is investing $35 million to set up its first U.S. operation in Indianapolis, where it began construction last month on a network of 25 vehicle distribution kiosks and as many as 1,000 public charging stations. Another 25 pickup locations will be added next year, says Herve Muller, president of the Indianapolis venture, BlueIndy.
The company expects to have the first of its lithium battery-powered, subcompact two-door Bluecar vehicles in operation there by year end, with plans to put 500 on the street there.
Once Indianapolis is up and running, Bollore hopes to set up similar public fleets in other cities around the country, Muller says.
Bollore's cars will not be sold to consumers, Muller clarifies, even as used cars when they rotate out of their rental fleets. There will be no retail stores or repair shops -- only an ongoing marketing effort to win consumers over on the idea of renting vehicles by the hour.
"When you look at the cost of owning and operating a car," Muller says, "there is a growing population of consumers who might say, 'Why do I need it?'"