Will London embrace the 'mobile love nest' electric cars?

The electric cars heading for Britain come with a promise: you can use them for anything - pardon?

Jamie Merrill
Saturday 13 June 2015 14:03

Forget illicit trysts on Hampstead Heath or an amorous evening at a boutique hotel. According to the French firm charged with bringing electric motoring to the capital, frisky young Londoners could soon be seeking intimacy in tiny battery-powered city cars.

The new red electric cars, unveiled to the public for the first time, are part of a £100m project that hopes to turn London into the “green driving” capital of the world and clean up its toxic air.

Before the cars had even got on the move, however, a company spokesman had already been quoted as saying that he expected the scheme to prove popular with young people – who have already used the firm’s cars in Paris to “make love” in. “They use them like a hotel. You can use them for anything,” a spokesman said.

With four seats, a good-sized boot, satellite navigation and a promised range of 150 miles, the Bolloré group’s new ride certainly has the legs for a late-night rendezvous.

It was rapidly made clear at the launch, however, that the spokesman’s comments from earlier in the week were merely a “joke” that was lost in translation – and that The Independent’s test in one of the first 10 cars to arrive in the UK would not involve sampling the capital’s more salacious hotspots.

And Christophe Arnaud, director of Bluepoint London, the Bolloré subsidiary running the charging-point network, was also anxious to point out that the firm was not expecting the cars to be impounded by the police on the hunt for those committing acts of public indecency.

First impressions on the car itself are not mind-blowing. The exterior was designed by the same firm that works with Ferrari, but lacks the supercar maker’s inherent sex appeal. And the faux-leather seats and cramped city-car interior hardly makes for a romantic proposition in sticky London summer heat.

While it’s hard to see many people ditching their Range Rovers for one, it’s nippy enough and will work extremely well as an inner-city runabout, which is exactly what it’s designed as.

It’s nippy and quick off the lights, boasts plenty of boot space and has already proved popular in Paris with 200,000 users signed up in the past four years. The as yet-unnamed scheme will allow drivers to rent one for as little as around £10 an hour. In preparation for the scheme’s first 50 cars, Bolloré has taken over the Source London charging network, with the aim of overhauling it entirely to allow a fleet of 3,000 battery-powered Bolloré cars on the road by 2018, making use of 6,000 planned charging points across the capital.

Vincent Bolloré, the chief executive of Bolloré Group, said that the new model would be an “electric car for the people” that would also reduce pollution.

There are currently 1,400 charging point for electric cars in the capital under the Source London scheme that London Mayor, Boris Johnson, set up in 2011 and Bolloré took over last year – but 40 per cent of these are currently out of order.

Critics also point out that the Bolloré scheme is running six months behind schedule after prolonged negotiations with all 27 town halls across London for access.

Stephen Knight, a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly, said Boris Johnson’s policies on electric cars have been “half-hearted and poorly implemented” and that the city needed a “rapid switch” to electric buses and taxis to tackle air pollution.

Driving force: Vincent Bolloré

French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, the chairman and chief executive of the group behind the new electric car scheme, has made his fortune by snapping up large stakes in troubled companies and now has interests in everything from communications to transport and logistics.

Bolloré began his career as an investment bank trainee at Edmond de Rothschild before taking control of the Bolloré Group in 1981. A close friend of the former French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bolloré transformed the struggling family business from a firm focusing on bible paper and cigarette paper to one of the 500 largest companies in the world.

The 60-year-old has an estimated fortune of $7.3bn is ranked 329th richest person in the world. For Mr Bolloré, the electric car schemes in Paris and now London – with Los Angeles and Indianapolis to follow – is a sideshow in the broader context of his empire.

He is the chairman and biggest shareholder of media giant Vivendi, which owns Channel+ in France and Universal Music Group in London, explaining why jazz singer Jamie Callum performed at the electric car launch.

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