Bringing smart and sustainable mobility to cities

Welcome to the latest DNV GL Talks Energy podcast series. This series focuses on digitalization and the impact of technology and data. Each week notable industry thought leaders join us to discuss AI, data analytics and all the hot topics impacting the strategies of global businesses, communities and nations as we transition towards a more efficient energy system.

Podcast car sharing schemes

Bringing smart and sustainable mobility to cities 

Will we all be driving around in shared autonomous electric vehicles in the future? DNV GL talks to Franck Vitte, Managing Director of BlueSG, Singapore’s first electric car sharing service about the future of transportation in cities.

In this last episode of the current series, Franck explains the drivers behind BlueSG’s decision to bring shared electric vehicles to Singapore; the challenges that they have faced; and what he believes the future holds for this market. He also shares his views on why  it is the ideal place for the car sharing model; and, despite it having limited levels of renewable energy generation, why this is still the more energy efficient solution. Finally, Franck gives us an insight into the future of electric vehicles and how autonomous electric vehicles can still retain the thrill factor for the car enthusiast.

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NARRATOR Welcome to the DNV GL Talks Energy podcast series. Electrification, rise of renewables and new technologies supported by more data and IT systems are transforming the power system. Join us each week as we discuss these changes with guests from around the industry.  

MATHIAS STECK Welcome to a new episode of DNV GL Talks Energy. My guest today is Franck Vitte, the managing director of BlueSG and we want to talk about electric vehicle car sharing. Welcome Franck.

FRANCK VITTE Yes, thank you Mathias. Thank you for hosting me, it’s good to be here. 

MATHIAS STECK Yes, thanks for your time. Franck, before we jump into the topic it wold be great if you could introduce yourself as well as BlueSG.

FRANCK VITTE Okay, so as you said my name is Franck Vitte, I am heading BlueSG since June 2017. BlueSG is a result of a contract that was signed between us and two government agencies which are the Land Transport Authority and the Economic Development Board. We launched the service in December 2017 and our objective is to deploy the electric car sharing service with 2,000 charging points in Singapore and 1,000 electric vehicles which would be used by the public. So, we launched BlueSG, actually the official launch was in December 2017, so, it’s a relatively new service. And BlueSG belongs to the Bolloré Group which is one of the 500 largest group in the world, which is actually the conglomerate in particular having three main verticals, the first one being transport and logistics, the second one being communication and media and the third one would be everything around technologies, in particular energy storage and the relative applications. So, just in Singapore there are 1,700 people from the Bolloré Group in Singapore and worldwide consolidated it’s about 80,000 people worldwide. 

MATHIAS STECK Great, well it’s a big company. You mentioned you started late 2017, so less than a year now, and I see more and more of your vehicles on Singapore’s roads.

FRANCK VITTE That’s good.

MATHIAS STECK Nevertheless I am pretty sure it’s not that easy to start from scratch and set that up. what were your biggest hurdles and challenges on the way from when you started to today?

FRANCK VITTE It’s of course, very complicated. It’s quite a huge challenge. The first challenge that we had to overcome was that we had to win this project. So, there were 13 consortiums to beat for this project, so, eventually we won. But eventually, when you have won and to deploy such a service, the main challenge pertains to the construction of your network of stations where people could pick a car or drop a car. And because we are dealing with electric vehicles, it’s a massive infrastructure work where we have to be able to, on the roadside, connect to the electrical grid, connect to the telecom network and get a lot of authorizations from various stakeholders. And it’s a lot of administrative work, it’s a lot of construction work and this is a main challenge to overcome. And after it also is a challenge because you need to set up a structure with plenty of people who have never done that, so, today I like to say that we have a team of beginners, they are all beginners because nobody ever did that in the past, but this way it’s fun and it’s quite exciting. 

MATHIAS STECK So, Singapore is, of course, a very good city to do electric vehicles because of its size. I think with one battery charge you definitely get everywhere in the country. Was that one driver? I mean, could you talk about the benefits of doing it in Singapore and how would that compare to other cities?

FRANCK VITTE Well, to tell you the truth, when we thought about Singapore quickly we came to the conclusion, within the group and with my management back in France, that Singapore was possibly the ideal city to deploy such a service. First, indeed, the size of Singapore makes it very limited area where to operate. We all know that Singapore is a very developed country, very well structured and very efficient but, on top of that, some of you possibly know it, the cost of a vehicle in Singapore is absolutely prohibitive. This is the most expensive country in the world where to buy a car and it’s a minimum of $100,000 just to acquire, I would say, a normal basic car. 

So, a lot of people would love to drive but just cannot do it because of the price. So, here we are proposing a service which really fits the need of the people; where it can complement the public transport network which is good in Singapore but probably not as extensive as other cities. And they can, again, drive at a very affordable cost, for a few dollars they can drive a car. For $5 they can drive for 15 minutes, so, it’s quite convenient for them.  So, yes, Singapore is good. 

So, that’s the good side of Singapore, now, there are specific challenges which makes it, to some extent, harder or more difficult than other places where we have operated. The first one and possibly the main one, is that actually Singapore is not exactly a city, it’s country and the fact of the matter is that when you talk to a city usually you get the endorsement of the Mayor and is the main decision maker and then after everyone reporting to the Mayor which means that almost everyone in the city complies. 

So, you have one person who has to agree on the project and to support the project and then after it can move very fast. In Singapore you have, I mean, we signed the contract with two government agencies which are the Land Transport Authority and the Economic Development Board but we need to talk to and we need to have the agreement and the endorsement of many other stakeholders, who are typically the Housing Development Board, the [Urban Redevelopment Authority] URA, but also all the members of parliament who are responsible for their constituencies, every time we need to build a station. So, it makes things much more complex because we need to talk to much more parties than in other cities. So, this is the main challenge in Singapore is to get everyone aligned and to be able to deploy very fast for the convenience of our users. 

MATHIAS STECK Many people associate electric vehicles with an environmentally friendly form of mobility. And we had in Singapore this slightly controversial discussion a few years back, I think, what that actually means in the context of Singapore because Singapore has hardly any renewable energy generation. What is your take on that topic?

FRANCK VITTE It’s actually a very valid point and Singapore is the only country I know, there might be others, but at least the ones that I know, who actually consider the pollution of a vehicle, not only just for the vehicle but also for the production of the electricity which was required So, that’s the only country and, typically, they are for some military vehicles, not only they do not have an environment rebate but they have to pay more taxes because they are meant to pollute more. This is what happened, for example, for Tesla a few years back. 

Now, having said that, there are two types of pollution, there’s the pollution where the vehicle is and in the streets. This one at least you totally eliminate the pollution on the street side. And people who are working in the streets, people who are driving around, do not have the exhaust pipe pollution. And that’s very important with the small micro particles which can go in your lungs, it’s a great benefit. But you still need to manufacture the electricity but manufacturing the electricity at the plant side is much more efficient in terms of pollution, that when you manufacture energy at the vehicle side and this is where, globally still, the electric vehicles reduce pollution definitely. 

MATHIAS STECK A follow up question on this, in DNV GL’s Energy Transition Outlook, we are forecasting a very rapid uptake of electric vehicles, but if I think about this scenario that also means we have to have a lot of batteries. And the vehicle application is very demanding with regards to charging times, with regards to response time when you hit the pedal, you want to immediately accelerate. So, these batteries, at some point, are at their end of life. So, are we creating a problem there or what can we do with these batteries after they’re not good enough?

FRANCK VITTE Yes, it’s indeed something which has to be considered. What’s going to happen with the old batteries which have to be recycled at some point, and recycling a battery is definitely not something easy. So, I’ll talk a little bit about our own technology of battery, because we develop our own battery which is a specific technology which is called the lithium metal polymer for which we hold all the patents and it’s not lithium ion. So, it’s a solid state battery which has a very high performance and this battery also has a very long lifespan. The lifespan of the battery is around probably over 20 years. 

So, you are right, first we use the battery for electro mobility application when the demand of performance is the highest and we can use in a very heavy usage. Again in car sharing usage the battery is for, possibly, seven, eight years actually. We usually replace the cars before the batteries. So, we take a new car, we put the battery and we can use possibly two car’s body for one battery. And after that we are going to use these batteries for another, possibly, almost 20 years in stationery applications. So, this is the first thing which is very interesting. Now, so, regarding the performance of our battery or the specific elements of our battery, we do not choose any rare element, such as cobalt etc. and we can recycle a large part of the lithium at the end of the life of the battery. So, to that extent, we pollute certainly much less with our own battery than the current lithium ion for which it could possibly be a concern in the long run, I agree with you. 

MATHIAS STECK Coming back to BlueSG’s business and your long-term strategy but also your vision on electro mobility in the future; what are your targets, what do you want to achieve?

FRANCK VITTE So, we have a few things that we want to achieve in Singapore. The first and foremost, of course, we need to make this electric car sharing project a success in Singapore, so, there’s a lot of work. But I must say that the launch and the figures, the results so far are absolutely far beyond our expectations. It’s twice or even three times better than what we had budgeted so far. So, it starts very well, but still we have a long way to go to make this project a success. But beyond that, again, BlueSG is just like Blue Solutions, our mother company, have various activities which are pertaining to electro mobility globally and stationary applications. So, beyond the car sharing we will aim at developing particular programs and [Research and Development] R&D programs with companies and research institute in Singapore to develop new applications.

It could be typically around driverless vehicle, it could be about wireless charging, it could be about a lot of different things such as big data and blockchain applications coming to the electro mobility. That’s one thing. Also developing partnerships with big industrial players for stationary application where we store the renewable energy and power some rural areas, in particular, in SouthEast Asia. And coming back to my previous point we could, in that case, use second life batteries, which were used before, for electro mobility applications. So, this is where we are aiming at. 

I would say that globally, in Singapore and besides BlueSG we foresee and we hope that not only BlueSG will deploy electric vehicles. As of today, just for your information, we have 65% of the electric vehicles which are registered in Singapore are ours. So, we hope it’s going to far less and there will be much more electric vehicles in Singapore. And what we foresee is that besides Singapore vehicles switching to EV. There are very few today but we foresee that there should be much more. But Singapore is probably the perfect country, in particular, for driverless vehicle and there’s a strong push from the government to have these driverless vehicles for the first month, last month application and all these falls into a global strategy of car light country where there will be as little cars as possible in Singapore. 

MATHIAS STECK Franck we, unfortunately, have already come to the end of this episode, but I have one last question to you. You just mentioned autonomous vehicles. Now auto mobility has a functional requirement, emotional requirement, a social requirement now we talk about electric vehicles which are driven autonomously and I share them. How can that compensate for the fun factor we had when we had our first Chevrolet? 

FRANCK VITTE Indeed, it is changing quite fast. And in particular in Singapore. We started to discuss about this project in 2012 and, of course, plenty of people were opposed to us. Especially in Singapore cars are status. If you do car sharing there is no longer the status, that’s not going to work. Where cars are status in Singapore, for those who are happy to afford a car, which is very little, actually, 10% only of the population. And there is a shift, this is what we see, a shift from the importance of owning a vehicle, in the case of driving, to mobility it’s just, I would say, a convenience, and the objective is to go from point A to point B without the fun, the fun tends to decrease. 

Nevertheless, people who have driven powerful electric cars would say that the feeling is absolutely outstanding. The acceleration is far better than a combustion engine car. And you need to limit the power electronically, you need to limit the torque of an electric car because it’s absolutely powerful. So, where the fun definitely, you know that some are sports car, I know that Porsche is working on it and I even heard that I think it was Ferrari who was thinking of developing electric cars as well. I mean once Ferrari develops an electric car, that is going to be a big milestone and it shows that the fun will be in electric cars, possibly in the future. 

MATHIAS STECK Thank you very much, Franck, for these good insights into electric vehicles and a shared concept and good luck for your operation – BlueSG. And to the listeners thank you very much for listening in, this was Franck Vitte, the Managing Director of BlueSG.

NARRATOR  Thank you for listening to this DNV GL Talks Energy podcast. To hear more podcasts in the series, please visit dnvgl.com/talksenergy.