On the Parisian carsharing market, it is easy to recognize the Quebec player. Just by ear, Communauto, with its French-speaking name, stands out from Share Now, Getaround, Free2Move, Ubeeqo or Zity – even though the latter three are owned respectively by Groupe PSA, Europcar and Renault.
It must be said that the Belle Province still represents a large part of the activity of this pioneer of the sector, founded in 1994 in Quebec City by Benoit Robert, a young student in land use planning at the time, who is still the leader. president today. Two thirds of the more than 3,500 vehicles in its fleet are in fact located in Quebec. By way of comparison, Communauto has 200 cars in Paris and… ten times more in Montreal!
Loop car sharing rather than free-floating
Quite a symbol: in September 2019, the state-owned company Investissement Québec (the equivalent of the BPI in France) also replaced the share capital of Communauto by the PSA group, which had joined it three years earlier. The official reason? Differences in long-term objectives, the French manufacturer favoring free-floating carsharing (without a station) while the Quebecer relies more on the loop one, with a return of the vehicle to the starting point. Note that RATP Capital Innovation, the RATP investment fund, is still in the capital of the French subsidiary of Communauto.
The company, present in 16 cities and 4 provinces in Canada, has also decided to accelerate in 2020 in its country of origin by acquiring 700 additional vehicles and launching its service in Calgary (Alberta). A year and a half after Toronto, Ontario, the largest city in the country. And this, despite the pandemic.
“We are not an alternative to public transport but to the private car. Our target are people who need a car for basic needs, but who do not have one. We have therefore been less affected. by the situation, ” says Marco Viviani, its vice-president (pictured opposite). The good figures for the summer (between + 30% and + 50% of activity compared to the previous year in France and Quebec), due to the impossibility of traveling abroad, have moreover partly compensated for the losses of the first confinement according to him.
Average journey of six hours
It should also be noted that Communauto took full advantage of the departure from North America at the start of the year of its main competitor, Car2Go, which has since become Share Now and jointly owned by manufacturers Daimler and BMW. Even if the use of the German company’s Smart cars and Communauto’s small city cars or sedans was very different, according to Marco Viviani.
“In Toronto, for example, the average Car2go trip was 50 minutes, usually for short trips to the city center, with an average of 120 riders per vehicle. On our side, the average trip is six hours and there are less than 30 users per car. In other words, they are much more active and recurring. There were therefore two similar services in the same city but with different functioning and therefore different uses. “
With its models of cars based on practicality and degressive pricing, Communauto is in fact intended for medium to long distance journeys, to go for big errands, to visit relatives or even … for weekends. integers. This summer, finding a Communauto available in Toronto or Montreal for a weekend was a miracle. “We were taken aback by the delays in delivering new vehicles…” confirms Marco Viviani. In fact, the rise of teleworking is not seen as a threat either by this affable Italian of origin. On the contrary : “People are going to need their personal cars even less,” he believes.
More difficulties in Paris
While Communauto is globally profitable, the company is still struggling in Paris, where it has nevertheless been present since 2012, after the takeover of Mobizen, which at the time belonged to the Veolia-Transdev group. “We inherited a loss-making structure and we partly straightened it out, justifies the one who is also president of Communauto Paris. But the development of carsharing is relatively slow there … “
A paradox when we see the number of players on the market, all the more since the sinking of Autolib ‘, stopped in July 2018. In addition to Zity (Renault), Share Now (Daimler-BMW) and Free2Move (PSA ), present in the free-floating niche, four companies, united under the Mobilib label, were awarded in May 2019 the former Autolib ‘locations on the public highway: Ubeeqo (Europcar), which won most of the of the 1,210 places available, Getaround, Ada and Communauto.
The problems of Paris? Urban planning and political conditions are not optimal, according to Marco Viviani. First, the city is very dense and the car is far from being the most rational choice of travel compared to public transport, the bicycle or even the scooter. “In Montreal, when you’re late, you take a taxi. In Paris, if you do that, you’ll arrive even later!”, he laughs.
Secondly, Autolib ‘would have doubly penalized the loop carsharing model. On the one hand, when the service existed (from 2011 to 2018), because it would have prevented the development of other networks by taking up most of the space on the road. And today, because it seems to have scalded the political leaders on the relevance of the model vis-a-vis that in free-floating.
“Today we are very reluctant to give space to carsharing in the resort, as if it were not glamorous. While, objectively, it is much more useful and good for the environment in Paris than free-floating. Even ADEME says it. We are really the poor relation of mobility, “ maugrée Marco Viviani.
No more incivility … but potential
The leader also points to incivilities, much greater in Paris than in Canada. “We are indeed seeing more vandalism, but the major problem remains our parking spaces which are regularly squatted by other motorists. It is rare in Montreal whereas it is the norm in Paris. It is a double penalty. for us: we lose space because the city rules do not protect us enough against this, and we are not able to recover the tickets that our subscribers take when they park next to them because their place is occupied. “
But what is Communauto doing in this mess, would we be tempted to ask? The American Zipcar, another player in the sector and a subsidiary of the Avis group, did not hesitate to throw in the towel in January 2019, less than three years after its establishment. “If we had to withdraw from Paris, we would have done it a long time ago. But I sincerely believe that we bring value and that we have a role to play. And Paris is an interesting showcase for several brands. “, confides Marco Viviani. The latter also sees great potential for its service in the inner suburbs, where traffic is less dense and the public transport offer less provided. Even if it has to rub shoulders, for the time being, with cities that are still reluctant.
While waiting of course for the decision of the City of Paris following the Assises du parking which is currently being held. Car-sharing players in fact hope to recover some of the 70,000 parking spaces that will be eliminated over the next six years, in order to achieve the critical mass necessary for their profitability.
Kévin Deniau, in Montreal