MONEY Autos

Groundbreaking Electric Car Sharing Program Launches in an Unlikely City

Blue Indy car
courtesy Blue Indy

Ready or not, electric car sharing is coming to Middle America.

On Wednesday, the nation’s most ambitious electric car sharing program launches in a city that’ll probably surprise you. It’s not San Francisco, where startups, innovation, sustainability, and forward thinking rule. It’s not in Austin, Boston, Denver, or either of the Portlands.

Nope, the city that’ll play host to what’s planned as the country’s biggest electric car sharing service is … Indianapolis.

The program, BlueIndy, is being run by a French company called the Bolloré Group, which says it is investing $41 million in the Indianapolis operation. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held on Wednesday with members of the company alongside Greg Ballard, Indianapolis’s Republican mayor who has long championed the program.

The company has said BlueIndy will have 25 charging stations and 50 vehicles around the city at launch, and the plan is for 200 stations and 500 electric cars in the near future. The cars themselves are small white hatchbacks made by Bolloré, featuring the BlueIndy logo on the sides.

Prices vary depending on the type of membership a driver opts for, and they’re charged on a sliding scale. Subscribers who sign up for a year pay $9.99 per month, then $4 for the first 20 minutes of a rental and 20¢ per minute after that. At the other end of the spectrum, a one-day membership is free, though the daily rates are much higher—$8 for the first 20 minutes and 40¢ per minute thereafter. Weekly and monthly memberships are also possible. There are no fees for parking, insurance, or gas (these are electric cars, remember), though drivers could incur charges for getting into accidents ($500 deductible) and things like failing to plug the car into the charger ($55).

Will this model sell in Indianapolis? We’ll have to wait and see if locals think the service makes sense in terms of convenience, comfort, and economics. Perhaps the bigger question revolves around how the program landed in Indianapolis in the first place. Without knowing any better, it would be reasonable to assume that a cutting-edge program like this would first appear in a city that already stands out for green initiatives and electric car adoption. Indianapolis, meanwhile, stands out for having one of the worst public transit systems in the country.

In fact, the sad state of Indianapolis public transportation is part of what drove Bolloré to the city. “We think it’s the perfect city to do this,” BlueIndy General Manager Scott Prince explained to the Indianapolis Business Journal. “If we had the world’s greatest mass transit system today, this arguably would not be the first city we’d be launching in in America.”

After all, if the city already had top-notch public transit options, there would be less need for a large car sharing program. At the same time, plenty of skepticism about the program’s viability in Middle America remains. “It is an odd choice, there’s no doubt about it,” Michael Thwaite, president of Plug In America and a partner of Tesla Motors Club, told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “One would have thought that they would have started in a very electric-car-friendly city.”

In addition to the state of local public transportation, supporters of BlueIndy point to the city’s large student population and its ability to attract tourists—especially for big sporting events—as reasons why the program has a great chance of succeeding.

Critics, on the other hand, have complained about the costs. While Bolloré is taking the biggest financial risk in this endeavor, the Indianapolis city council agreed to use $6 million in city funds, without the approval of taxpayers, for the project. Other critics have questions about BlueIndy’s safety, and about the possibility that charging stations could hurt local businesses.

MONEY Autos

Tesla Broke the Consumer Reports Rating System

Yes, we're serious. Apparently, it's that good.

The new Tesla Model S P85D broke the Consumer Reports rating system by scoring 103 out of 100. Consumer Reports said it had to overhaul its rating system to accommodate the P85D’s combination of performance and efficiency. The model can go from zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds without using a single drop of gasoline. It gets the equivalent of 87 miles per gallon without sacrificing any horsepower. Despite the better-than-perfect score, the Tesla isn’t a better-than-perfect car. “The interior materials aren’t as opulent as other high-ticket automobiles, and its ride is firmer and louder than our base Model S,” Consumer Reports reported.

TIME Telsa

Tesla Just Boosted Its Stock Offering

CHINA-AUTO-SHOW
A Tesla Model S P85D is displayed at the 16th annual Shanghai auto show on April 20, 2015.

The electric car company wants another $140 million

Tesla’s stock may very well be more popular than its cars.

On Friday, the Palo Alto firm announced that it is boosting its latest stock offering by $140 million, on top of the $500 million in new equity the firm planned to issue, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

And the offering could balloon to as much as $750 million if the firm’s underwriters exercise their options to purchase shares.

The new offering comes on top of $4 billion Tesla has raised since 2013. According to the Journal the new round of fundraising “suggests the cost of disrupting the global auto industry with its pricey electric vehicles is more expensive than Chief Executive Elon Musk initially thought.”

Tesla says it will sell fewer than 55,000 cars this year.

TIME Tesla

Elon Musk Is About To Make a Huge Investment in Tesla

Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk unveils a new all-wheel-drive version of the Model S car in Hawthorne, California
Lucy Nicholson—Reuters Elon Musk

Company is planning to sell millions of shares to expand its business

Electronic car maker Tesla Motors is planning raise about $500 million in September by offering 2.1 million additional shares, according to an SEC filing. Founder and CEO Elon Musk has indicated that he will buy about $20 million worth of the stock.

Tesla will use the proceeds, which could amount to as much as $566 million, to spur development of its Model 3, a more affordable sedan aimed to launch in 2017. The money will also help boost development company’s retail operations, charging stations and battery factory.

Tesla posted a net loss of $184 million in the second quarter, up from $62 million during the same period a year ago. The company has used equity and debt offerings to finance its business, as well as loans from the Energy Department. Musk projects that the company could become profitable on a net basis by 2020 with sales of 500,000 cars per year.

TIME BMW

Why BMW Is Paying Some Car Owners $1,000

BMW Launch Their First All- Electric Car
Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

It's trying to get people to change their behavior

Last year, Los Angeles carved out a plan to become a national electric vehicle leader by 2017. The city has since hit a roadblock. The environment would benefit radically if everyone had an electric car, but as the electric cars become more popular, utility companies have to figure out ways to support them.

BMW and PG&E, a California utility company, have joined forces in a trial that they’re calling the “BMW iCharge Forward” program, which they hope will solve the issue. They announced the 18-month trial in January and are finally starting it this month.

PG&E will alert BMW during peak hours when it wants to limit energy consumption. The car company will then alert drivers not to charge their cars for the next hour. The drivers can select their preferred driving hours, which BMW will keep in mind when choosing which customers they’ll request to refrain from charging. The drivers can also opt out if they can’t commit to a delay.

100 BMW i3 drivers have agreed to participate. Each participant receives a $1,000 gift card at the beginning of the program, and at the end of the 18 months they’ll get a second one worth up to $540, depending on how many times they’ve complied with the delay.

TIME Apple

Apple’s Hiring More Car Industry Experts For a Secret Project

Transportation Sec'y Foxx Discusses Future Transportation Trends With Google CEO
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A Google self-driving car.

The project’s code-named ‘Titan’

First, Apple revolutionized the Walkman, then the cell phone, and later the watch. Now, Apple seems to be planning on reinventing the car, hiring experts from across the auto industry.

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, Apple has hired Doug Betts, a longtime auto industry expert who previously headed up global quality at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Earlier this year, Apple brought on Paul Furgale, an autonomous vehicle researcher in Switzerland, as well as hundreds of others from the auto industry.

The team for the secret project, code-named “Titan,” is working on creating an Apple-branded electric car, the Journal said. Some reports indicate that the car will be self-driving, but because Apple hasn’t said anything about the project, it’s difficult to parse out rumors from reality.

If the reports are true, however, then Apple will likely be going brain-to-brain with Google in seeking to produce a self-driving, electric car. The Google car, which has been explicitly discussed by the company, will be self-driving, and prototypes are already roving the streets of Mountain View, Calif. The autonomous cars have so far logged more than 2 million test miles, according to USA Today.

Of course, both Google and Apple will have a long way to go before electric, autonomous cars are in the hands of consumers. But Apple’s collection of auto industry experts potentially lends gravitas to a project that has long been obscured by rumor.

MONEY Autos

Poor People Can Get Cars for Free in California Pilot Program

Nissan LEAF
John Murphy Photography—Nissan Nissan LEAF

You wanted an electric car, right?

A recently introduced pilot program in California is full of incentives aimed at simultaneously getting old pollution-spewing vehicles off the roads and putting low-income drivers behind the wheels of energy-efficient cars. The incentives are so generous and flexible that, in the right situation, a car can be purchased for $0. No joke.

The program is available to poor residents of certain “disadvantaged” areas of California, specifically the greater Los Angeles area and the San Joaquin Valley. Simply enough, the program from CARB (California Air Resources Board) works by “providing increasingly larger cash payments for the lowest-income families to move up to the very cleanest cars.”

How large are these cash payments? Upwards of $12,000, plus up to another $2,000 for the purchase of a charging unit for electric cars.

The incentives are based on a sliding scale, with the most money going to the poorest households that are turning in old clunkers and buying the most fuel-efficient cars possible. A household in the appropriate residential area with income at or below 225% of the federal poverty level is eligible for $9,500 with the purchase of a used electric car like the Leaf, or a plug-in gas-electric hybrid such as the Volt. An additional incentive of up to $2,500 is provided for the purchase of a brand new electric car, for a total of $12,000. A payment of up to $2,000 comes on top of that to help cover the cost of getting a charging unit installed.

No matter how noble the intentions of such a program, it must be noted that thus far low-income households have shown very little interest in electric cars. Plug-in vehicles account for a very small percentage of the car market, and early on, the buyers have tended to be overwhelmingly wealthy and well-educated. Certainly, the impracticality of owning a car that can be driven only 70 or 80 miles before requiring a recharge has been holding back electric cars from appealing to middle- and low-income drivers alike. The high purchase price of an electric car or even a hybrid like the Toyota Prius compared with a high-mileage used sedan has obviously also meant that many poorer drivers have never even considered an EV.

California’s pilot project aims to change some of the math concerning the affordability of more fuel-efficient cars. What’s most notable is that incentives are available not only for pricey new plug-ins, but for used, low-cost hybrids as well. Drivers who are in the lowest income category can get $6,500 if they’re scrapping an old car and purchasing a hybrid that is less than eight years old and gets at least 20 mpg. The incentive goes up to $7,000 for the purchase of a hybrid that gets 35 mpg or better.

As Wards Auto recently reported, in the right set of circumstances, it is indeed possible for low-income motorists to “end up driving off with a free EV.” What’s more, Green Car Reports noted, “The program doesn’t even require you to buy a replacement car. Instead, depending on your income level, you could, in return, get public transit passes worth between $2,500 and $4,500.”

MONEY Autos

The Case for Buying an Electric Car Is About to Get a Whole Lot Better

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Luke Ray—Fuel Press Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle with more than 200 miles of range and a price tag around $30,000.

Drive 200+ miles on a single charge, without paying Tesla prices.

Electric car sales have stagnated through the first half of 2015. Sales have slumped for several reasons, including cheap gas prices and increased fuel efficiency among gas-powered automobiles.

In May, dramatic price cuts helped boost sales of models such as the Chevy Volt, and the month saw the most EV sales of 2015, according to InsideEVs. Still, the May 2015 EV sales total of 11,540 was 7% lower than May 2014. The Nissan Leaf, the overall electric-car category leader, has been struggling in particular. After failing to cross 2,000 unit sales in any month in 2015, the Leaf finally hit the mark in May. But through the first five months of the year, only 7,742 Nissan Leafs have been purchased, a decrease of more than 25% off last year’s pace.

Over the next few years, however, advances in electric car technology could very well turn skeptics into plug-in adopters.

While purchase prices have decreased, EVs remain impractical for many households for the time being. Presumably, a large portion of drivers is reluctant to go electric because of limited driving range. Unless you’re willing to pay $70,000 or more for the likes of a Tesla, you’ll be limited to driving 70 or 80 miles per charge with the Leaf and nearly every other reasonably priced purely battery-powered vehicle. That’s just not enough for drivers who want a car that’ll be worry-free on road trips, longer commutes, and long days full of running errands.

Soon, though, the so-called “range anxiety” factor could be reduced significantly. Earlier this year, GM introduced a concept called the Chevy Bolt, an all-electric vehicle that should appeal to the masses seeing as it’s expected to be both affordable (around $30,000) and practical (200 miles per charge).

Chevy hasn’t said when, exactly, the Bolt will be available for purchase, but it’s been widely reported that the likely date is sometime in 2017—probably late 2017. According to industry analysts cited by Automotive News, buyers could be behind the wheel of Bolts sooner than that. Production of the Bolt is expected to begin in October 2016, and sales would commence shortly thereafter.

By then, there could be even more compelling reasons to wait a little longer for what Nissan has in the works for the Leaf. Another Automotive News post notes that Nissan is working on a next-generation battery that would allow the Leaf a driving range of roughly 310 miles per charge. Such an impressive range won’t be available in the forthcoming 2017 Nissan Leaf, which should hit the market next year with an expected range of 105 to 120 miles.

What’s more, next year Tesla, which thus far has focused on the high-end market, is expected to introduce the Model 3, a mass-market vehicle rumored to have an impressive driving range and starting price ($35,000) that could come to dominate the field.

Overall, one or more of these new vehicles could be real game changers, with affordable prices and vastly improved driving ranges that’ll make the best arguments yet for switching to an EV.

Read next: Cheap Gas Helps Pull the Plug on Electric Cars

TIME Elon Musk

Tesla’s Elon Musk Just Had the Worst Birthday Ever

Tesla Elon Musk
Noah Berger—AP Tesla's CEO Elon Musk.

A disastrous weekend for both Tesla and SpaceX

Elon Musk turned 44 on Sunday, but the entrepreneur probably wished he could just crawl back into bed and forget the day ever happened.

It was, to be frank, a disastrous weekend for both Tesla and SpaceX, the two companies Musk leads.

First, the biggie: an unmanned SpaceX rocket on a resupply mission to the International Space Station exploded after it was launched. No one was hurt, and the astronauts on board the Space Station have enough supplies to last until October, but the Falcon 9 rocket that was destroyed represents a lot of lost capital, and it’s always embarrassing for an aerospace company when a craft just, well, explodes.

In news that was slightly less spectacular, but still troubling, reports say Musk said Tesla owners weren’t using the battery swap technology he debuted in 2013. While this doesn’t have quite the visual impact of an exploding rocket, it’s still not good news for a service that Musk and other Tesla execs hoped would help show consumers that electric cars, like Teslas, can be taken on longer trips with minimal wait time.

Musk himself admitted to having a bad day:

We hope your Independence Day weekend is better, Elon.

TIME Tesla

Tesla Shareholders Want a Vegan Car

But they probably won't get one

Some owners of Tesla Motors shares want the electric car company to make its cars more ethical — by taking out the leather seats.

Two shareholders, Mark and Elizabeth Peters, made a presentation at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Tuesday, asking Elon Musk and the rest of Tesla’s leadership to stop using animal products in the interiors of Tesla cars, and to go completely vegan by 2019, according to Bloomberg.

Right now, the Tesla Model S is available without leather seats, but not without leather trim. The couple said it was extremely difficult to get a vegan Model S.

Mark and Elizabeth Peters seem unlikely to get their wish, however, as the board of directors recommended against implementation of their plan.

For more details, head to Bloomberg.

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