Whether electric cars are suitable for the wider market yet is still a topic undergoing heated debate, but several companies have found a use to which they're very much suited - inner city rental.

This is the case for French billionaire entrepreneur Vincent Bolloré. Having commissioned the renowned design house of Pininfarina to create a small city car called BlueCar, he hopes the electric minicars will soon be whirring silently around the streets of Paris as hire cars under the Autolib scheme.

Trials are set to begin today and run for two months. Individuals will pay a membership fee of 10 Euros (just over $13) per day and a further 4-8 Euros ($5-10) per half hour of driving.

Drivers can register at Autolib's main office in central Paris or at kiosks located near stations, and sign up for varying length memberships, from 10 Euros per day to 114 Euros ($192) per year.

Bolloré's company will be providing the drivetrain for the Pininfarina BlueCar and Autolib is handling the hiring network. The BlueCar uses a lithium metal-polymer battery that allows BlueCar to travel 155 miles on a 4-hour charge - far greater distance than any car is likely to travel around Paris. Lithium metal-polymer has been chosen as it's less likely to overheat than lithium-ion cells.

Despite the large range and added safety, Autolib will even offer a 24-hour support center for any drivers who might have problems.

The project aims to reduce the number of private cars on Parisian roads and the service is expected to increase from the current 66 cars and 33 stations in Paris alone, to 3,000 cars and over 1,000 stations in total by the end of 2012. Three other cities have already expressed an interest in the service.

According to Automotive News (subscription required), Bolloré expects to be making a profit from the seventh year - apparently par for the course in industrial ventures.

It sounds like a great way of getting people into electric cars - it might not be the car you typically think of when Pininfarina is mentioned, but it could become a common sight on Parisian roads over the next few years.


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