Never heard of Vincent Bolloré? You’re not alone. Like Tesla’s Elon Musk, he is a self-made billionaire who is passionate about electric cars and the benefits they can bring to society. His family has “known three kings, one emperor and 24 presidents of the Republic,” he says proudly. His company makes the Bolloré Bluecar, an electric sedan with 120 miles of range.
M. Bolloré is the founder of Autolib, the largest electric carsharing program in Paris. It now has more than 20,000 subscribers who share 2,200 cars on Parisian streets. The service has more than 4,000 charging stations throughout the city. Mayor Boris Johnson has invited Bolloré to bring electric carsharing to his city as well. Recently, it also began its BlueIndy electric carsharing program in Indianapolis — although, there are signs the program may be off to a rocky start. BlueIndy uses the Bolloré BlueCar exclusively.
Like other wealthy people, Vincent Bolloré likes to do things his own way. He designs his own cars, for instance. Considering the track record of French car design over the years, that may not be such a good idea. The BlueCar is fairly attractive, however. It is about the size of a Nissan LEAF and looks a little like that car, too.
The one thing that all Bolloré cars have in common is a lithium metal polymer (LMP) solid-state battery. Vincent Bolloré was involved in designing the battery as well as the cars. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, the LMP units have no toxic liquid electrolyte inside that can overheat and catch fire. The LMP battery needs no cooling system, which saves weight and money. It also lasts far longer than a lithium-ion battery.
The batteries have such long lives, they are often used in more than one car, says Cedric Bolloré, vice president for development. “First you put it in a car. Then you will put it in another car, if the [original] car [is] not any more usable. After that, you will still use it for stationary applications. It will still be usable to store energy.”
He says the Bolloré Group is in negotiations with several large US corporations that want to buy the Bolloré Bluecar for their fleet operations. If all goes well, the company may even sell the cars to individual buyers. “We do not have a timetable for selling our Bluecar in the US, but it is something that we will seriously consider when our car-sharing service will have demonstrated the quality and reliability of our cars,” Bollore wrote in an email to Automotive News. “We also need to build the required organization to offer a perfect service to our clients.”
Is Elon Musk worried? Hardly. But the Bolloré Bluecar could cost considerably less than other electric cars, which might get more mainstream drivers thinking about owning an electric car. If there is enough interest, the company would even consider opening a North America factory. “It is too early to take such a decision,” Cedric Bolloré says, but adds,“If the success is what we hope, it would be no reason why we wouldn’t produce the car in North America.”
Could the Bolloré Bluecar be the affordable electric car with decent range ordinary shoppers have been waiting for? One day, lithium-metal polymer batteries may be the power source of choice for the green car revolution and people will all be singing the praises of Vincent Bolloré instead of Elon Musk. Stranger things have happened.