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Bosch enters Paris electric-scooter fray as diesel loses favour

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Robert Bosch GmbH is expanding its electric-scooter sharing service to Paris as the German auto supplier seeks to disentangle itself from the industry's diesel-emissions scandal.

[PARIS] Robert Bosch GmbH is expanding its electric-scooter sharing service to Paris as the German auto supplier seeks to disentangle itself from the industry's diesel-emissions scandal.

Bosch is rolling out its Coup service in the French capital on Thursday and aims to operate as many as 600 battery-powered two-wheelers there in the coming weeks. The offering started last August in Berlin, where its fleet has since surged fivefold to 1,000 scooters.

"Paris is one of Europe's most crowded cities, with issues of congestion and pollution," Maureen Houel, Coup's general manager in Paris, said by phone. "It's a good place to introduce a new mobility service." Coup is one of Bosch's first forays into dealing with transport customers directly, putting it at risk of clashing with its automaking clients as they push into mobility services. The move reflects the disruption gripping the auto industry as it adapts to changing consumer habits and a growing range of alternatives to traditional car ownership. 

The expansion of Coup also comes amid growing headwinds for diesel technology, a key part of Bosch's automotive business. Leaders of major European urban centers such as London, Paris and Munich have stepped up efforts to cut the use of diesel vehicles amid growing concerns about the health impact of the exhaust emissions.  The Paris government "supports any public or private initiative that aims to reduce the use of cars in the capital," a spokeswoman for the French capital said. The city has abandoned Scootlib, a scooter-based version of its decade-old Velib bike-sharing project, "given the emergence of these private initiatives." Bosch, the world's largest auto parts maker, has been closely connected to the diesel scandal that erupted in September 2015 when Volkswagen AG admitted to rigging about 11 million cars to cheat on emissions tests. As one of the leading producers of the software that controls diesel engines, the Stuttgart-based company has been involved as a technology supplier, though the company has denied wrongdoing.

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Bosch, which also makes power drills, robotic lawnmowers and smartphone sensors, has invested 400 million euros (S$617.6 million) annually in developing electric powertrains since the start of the decade as it adapts to the changing automotive landscape. The company is looking at expanding Coup into other cities, said spokeswoman Inga Ehret, without elaborating.

Coup uses scooters supplied by Taiwanese manufacturer Gogoro and will compete directly in Paris with Cityscoot, which has been in operation since October and now boasts a fleet of 1,000 two-wheelers.

The Bosch service will rent scooters to licensed drivers who are at least 21 years old. Customers can book and locate the nearest two-wheeler with a smartphone application. A 30-minute ride costs 4 euros.

Like Daimler AG's Car2Go and BMW AG's DriveNow, it's a free-floating service, meaning riders can leave the scooter wherever they want at the end of a trip, rather than at a designated station. Roving teams from Coup will swap out depleted batteries or move the vehicles to neighborhoods with higher demand.

Bosch says the fact that Coup offers two-wheelers, instead of cars, will help it avoid direct competition with Car2Go and DriveNow. The Daimler service mainly rents two-seat Smart cars, while DriveNow offers Mini and compact BMW models such as the 1-Series hatchback.

Coup scooters have a range of 100km on a fully charged battery. The company chose Gogoro as the supplier partly because it's designed for an urban environment and because the battery can be exchanged easily, Ms Houel said.

Still, the service may be hard to make work. A shared fleet of battery-powered scooters is hard to run profitably, because of the higher cost of electric models, according to Ryan Citron, a New York-based analyst at Navigant Research.

"Programs need high membership rates to recover upfront investment," Mr Citron said.

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