With only three years in business, BlueSG is already the world’s second largest electric car-sharing service. The subsidiary of the Bolloré Group, which also owns the world’s largest car-sharing service Autolib’ in Paris, currently has a fleet of 667 shared electric Bluecar vehicles and 1,487 charging stations spread across 374 locations islandwide.
“We’ve come a long way,” said Franck Vitte, managing director of BlueSG, as he recalls the journey of his firm. BlueSG is the pioneer of EV car-sharing services in Singapore. It was a fairly new concept when they first started out and people had no idea what to expect. “The very first challenge was to get people to understand it and make it work for them,” Vitte said.
The other was building the EV infrastructure—charging stations and parking lots. The company offers a “point A to B” service, users don’t have to return the car at the same location they picked it up from. Most other car-sharing services adopt the “point A to A” model, which is not very convenient and feels like renting a car, Vitte points out.
BlueSG also bills for the journey, “pay per use,” as Vitte explains it. Users only pay for the trip duration, which costs SGD 0.33 per minute. With car-sharing, they also don’t have to bear the maintenance cost or insurance, he added. BlueSG also offers rental packages. For two hours it is SGD 29.90 (USD 22.40), three hours go for SGD 39.90, and five hours for SGD 49.90.
To book a BlueSG car, customers need to subscribe to a membership plan. “We definitely need to have a membership because it’s a car,” said Vitte. “We have to make sure that the people have a valid driving license, are over 20 years old, and have their credit or debit card in order to be able to enjoy our service.”
The flat rate of SGD 0.33 per minute is unlike taxi or ride-hailing companies, which charge a dynamic pricing. “They increase their prices when there’s high demand, but we cannot do that. It just doesn’t make sense,” said Vitte. “We offer very minimal, very transparent pricing with zero hidden costs.”
Another differentiating factor is probably the scale of the network. “Wherever you are, we can guarantee that a BlueSG station is nearby and within a five-minute walk, more or less,” Vitte said. He believes the huge network of charging stations to be the turning point for business growth. Convenience is a key factor for car sharing, and having a sufficient network helps to generate users.
When people try out BlueSG and like the service, they pass the word on and recommend it to their circle of family and friends. That’s how the number of BlueSG’s subscribers has grown to over 80,000 today. The initial investment has been “huge,” according to Vitte. The assets are big-ticket items like cars and the construction of charging points is also significant.
What happens if a user dirties or damages their car? Vitte explains that their network of cars is “highly connected.” When there’s an accident, it will trigger an alarm to alert BlueSG. They contact the user involved in the accident, and do the necessary insurance follow-ups.
When it comes to the cleanliness of the cars, all users are asked to rate the car’s cleanliness first before they drive off. Vitte points out that BlueSG users have been very responsible so far and they have yet to encounter any major user problems.
When he first approached the government to propose his business idea, he told them that Singapore would be a perfect place for the service. Not everyone here has access to a car, and Singapore has a very good public transport system in place. “If there’s no public transport, we’ll have more cars on the road and nobody will use car-sharing. Therefore, our car-sharing service and public transport actually complements each other,” he explained.
Although the local public transport in Singapore is already well-connected, a car is undoubtedly more convenient, Vitte believes. “Our car-sharing service is available 24/7, so you can book a car anytime, anywhere.”
Singapore’s EV push
Moreover, the Singapore government is strongly pushing for EV adoption which carves a huge business opportunity for BlueSG. Earlier this year, the government announced that it will be phasing out internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2040. It also recently issued tenders to deploy more EV charging stations across public carparks.
When asked if they are worried about the pandemic affecting their business, Vitte admitted that ridership levels were impacted: “During circuit breaker, people were requested to stay at home. When you stay at home, you don’t need the car. Our car ridership dropped by about 40%.” As soon as they entered Phase 1 and 2 of reopening, the ridership bounced back to pre-pandemic levels.
With regards to future plans, Vitte said that increasing the car fleet is definitely on the business map. The company plans to offer more convenient options for users with their rental packages, and try to strike a lot of corporate partnerships that can help elevate the brand.
When asked about strategies of surviving in this competitive market, Vitte said that BlueSG learned from Smove’s exit from the car-sharing market earlier this year. They adopted the “point A to A model,” which can be troublesome for some users, he thinks. “Of course, they tried to make it more convenient for users by allowing them to drop the car at another location. Someone from Smove’s operation would then have to move the car to the original location,” said Vitte. “This is extremely costly when it comes to manpower, and their operating costs were way too high for them to break even.”
Vitte knows that it’s most important for the company to change people’s mind about the ownership of a car. “Car ownership is our biggest competitor in fact. It’s not public transport, not the other car-sharing services, or even ride-hailing,” he stressed. It’s a good thing that cars are so expensive in Singapore, he added with a laugh.
“If you don’t want to spend so much on a car yet want to have the convenience, then BlueSG makes the most sense,” he said.
This article was originally published by Vulcan Post.