Photos of failed electric car-sharing service in Paris become 'fake news' in the US

·4-min read

Photos of a "graveyard" of electric vehicles have made the rounds on Facebook in the United States, with users claiming the cars were discarded once their batteries died. But it turns out these cars are actually a former fleet of BlueCars from the Autolib' car-sharing service, which operated in the French capital from 2011 to 2018 before going out of business.

"Still think we should go green?" asked a Facebook user from Texas. "I think I'll stick to gasoline-powered cars, because I don't like the idea of living in a certified green future," agreed another Facebook user, who appears to live in Florida. A third user referred to the vehicles as "Joe Biden electric cars," in an attempt to compare the condition of the electric vehicles to the age of the American president. All the photos feature rows of cars parked in a vacant lot.

"This is a boneyard near Paris, France with hundreds of electric powered cars," reads the caption. "All of these have the same issue...the battery storage cells have given out and need [to be] replaced." But their batteries were not replaced because they "cost almost double what the vehicle cost new," but also because "no landfill or disposals will allow the batteries to be disposed of there," according to this user. The captions also accuse the cars of producing a significant amount of pollution as they "drain toxins into the ground."

Not just any electric car

A reverse image search of the three photos (click here to find out how) reveal the real story. The photos were initially shared in March 2021 on several social media platforms. They were posted on the page of a French association dedicated to electric vehicles and in a Facebook group of Paris residents.

The captions on these posts also denounced how these cars were stored, parked in what users described as a "graveyard."

The vehicles can be identified thanks to "Autolib'" stickers on their sides, visible in the original photos. They are called 'BlueCars' and were used for the car-sharing service operating in the French capital and partnering cities from 2011 to 2018.

The public service Autolib' was run by a private company, Bolloré. In 2018, the service had some 150,000 subscribers sharing nearly 4,000 vehicles in Paris and 103 surrounding cities. But after seven years, the service was not profitable, because the offer of electric vehicles couldn't satisfy user demand. The cars were often left dirty and damaged, which increased maintenance costs. Additionally, the growing market of smaller electric vehicles, such as bikes and scooters, meant the service was facing tough competition.

On June 21, 2018, Paris and partner cities put an end to Autolib', which was 233 million euros in debt. The contract with the Bolloré group officially ended on July 25. But what happened to the vehicles?

One thousand cars stored south of Paris

As early as November 2018, a hundred BlueCars were parked in the car park of a supermarket in Romorantin-Lanthenay, 200 km south of Paris, and put up for sale. The cars were sold for between 3,700 and 4,700 euros each. About 3,000 of these cars were stored in Romorantin-Lanthenay, according to Actu Paris. Later on, "other sales of vehicles took place, in batches of 50, at very affordable prices," Actu Paris reported.

But about 1,000 of these cars still haven't found a second-hand owner. They have been stored "on two nearby sites: a car park and a cleared area of an industrial zone in Romorantin." The misleading photos that have been circulating online in the United States were taken at the second site. The cars in question are currently owned by the company managing the vacant lot, and we were not able to verify what they intend to do with them.

The conclusion: the presence of these cars on a vacant lot has nothing to do with dead batteries which would have been too costly to replace – in fact, the cars are still operational. Rather, these photos illustrate the failure of a public car-sharing service launched in Paris and neighbouring cities, operated by a large transportation company.

According to Actu Paris, the batteries have been removed from the BlueCars to avoid pollution hazards.