Green petite cars tempt tourists
By Clark Boyd
The narrow, cobbled streets of Cordoba in southern Spain are no place
for a car, but a Spanish entrepreneur wants to change that.
Gem hire car in Cordoba
The cars have a top speed of about 20mph
Alfredo Romeo opens the door of a newly built garage just off one of
Cordoba's main streets. He can hardly wait to show off the cars inside.
He points to a sleek, curvy little number. "It's a wonderful car, a
marvellous car," says Mr Romeo with used-car salesman relish.
"It's noiseless. It's very safe. It's reliable. This model is the
two-seater. I love the cars."
But Mr Romeo is not selling cars, he is renting them. And he is not
talking about Porsches or Lamborghinis. Instead, he is renting Gems, or
Global Electric Motorcars.
Half a dozen of the vehicles are scattered throughout the garage,
plugged into the mains. They are charging up for a day of work on
Cordoba's busy streets. One charge is usually good for about 50 miles
Gems are made in the US by a division of Daimler-Chrysler. They have a
flowing, curvilinear design reminiscent of an Apple eMac computer, or a
Objects with that kind of shape have picked up their own moniker -
Alfredo Romeo has been taken with the idea of blobjects ever since he
heard technology guru Bruce Sterling discuss them in a speech.
Cordoba is a city of the senses. There are streets where it truly
smells like flowers. We have a great climate here, too
Laura Rodriguez, Blobject
"Sterling said something that I really love," says Mr Romeo. "He said,
'Blobjects are going to float our world.'"
The Spanish entrepreneur loved the name. He felt it matched his vision
for what personal transportation might be like in the future.
When he teamed up with two old school friends to launch the electric
car rental business, he decided to name the company Blobject.
The company rents the electric cars to tourists in Cordoba, as a safe,
convenient, and environmentally friendly way to see the town. It costs
about US$50 (£28) for a two-hour rental.
The Gems turn heads as they cruise along the city streets. The cars
have a top speed of about 20mph (32Km/h), so scooters whip right by
But Mr Romeo contends that slow is better for sight-seeing anyway. And
besides, he says, there are the extras.
Open source autos
Each Blobject car comes with a touch-screen computer system mounted in
the dash. Through a USB port, you can plug in a flash drive containing
information on Cordoba in Spanish, English or French.
Gem hire cars in Cordoba
The Gems can be hired for US$50 for a two-hour rental
By using GPS technology, the computer keeps track of exactly where you
are in the city.
When you pass a certain landmark, the computer then knows to display
the appropriate text, audio and video information about that landmark
on the screen.
The computer system is based on open source software developed by a
company in Seville, Spain. As with any open source software, anyone can
improve and change Blobject's code, as long as those improvements and
changes are shared with others.
Mr Romeo insisted on using open source. Not only was it cheaper, he
says, but it also allowed him to better customise his product.
"With proprietary software, innovation comes from the people in
marketing," he says.
"But with open source, innovation comes from the guy who is really in
the market. It comes from someone who knows the city."
Blobject's cars have other customised features as well.
It's a communism that moves logically toward something that is very
different than what it used to be
Paco Tejada, local government official
"For example, we decided not to put doors on the cars," says Blobject
partner Laura Rodriguez.
"Cordoba is a city of the senses. There are streets where it truly
smells like flowers. We have a great climate here, too. In a closed
car, you couldn't experience any of that."
Not everyone is taken with the electric cars. The city's taxi drivers
call them "caracoles", which is Spanish for snails.
As they pass, the taxis lean on their horns. They would probably yell
obscenities at you, if they were not going by so quickly.
But the local government is behind the Blobject effort. It has given
the company some money, and has set aside special parking places for
the electric cars around Cordoba's main tourist sites.
"They are focusing on an important sector to the city - tourism," says
Paco Tejada, the local government official in charge of tourism. "It
seemed to us like an important entrepreneurial initiative."
That may seem like typical government talk. But Cordoba's city
government is controlled by the Communist party. When I point out that
funding entrepreneurial projects does not sound very communist, Mr
Tejada is amused.
"Well, it's the communism of the future," he says laughing. "It's a
communism that moves logically toward something that is very different
than what it used to be."
Alfredo Romeo is moving ahead as well. He has opened a second Blobject
office in Seville.
And he has just taken delivery of some new additions to his fleet. They
are four-seater electric cars. "The sedan model," he calls them. "You
know, for the whole family."