Auto manufacturers are hedging their bets by launching car sharing companies around the world. It’s a good way to protect against new car sales that are up one month and down another, protectionist trade barriers, and the fickle habits of millennials. In survey after survey, they’ve indicated they would rather share than own.
All car sharing programs work the same way. Sign up, use a dedicated smartphone App to locate a nearby vehicle, use your mobile account to unlock it, and drive away. Drop the vehicle in any legal spot when you are done, or in a special members-only location. If it’s an electric vehicle, you can get bonus points for plugging it into a charging station.
Mercedes-Benz was the first, with its car2go program, launched in Germany in 2008 by parent company Daimler, and expanded to the USA the following year. Car2go users share the mini Smartcar, including the EV version, a small car designed specifically for urban use. It’s turned out to be a smart move for MB, since many more Smartcars are shared though car2go than are purchased for full-time ownership. In Denver, where a smart car for winter is equipped with 4WD, car2go has added beefy Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA model SUVs.
Audi recently completed the purchase of Silvercar, an Audi-only rental company with locations in Texas and California. Expect to see Silvercar expand to more US airport locations, and perhaps downtown, too.
General Motors calls its Maven car-sharing program a “personal mobility brand”. Since launching in 2016, Maven has signed up some 25,000 members in 17 cities in the USA and Canada, who have traveled more than 50 million miles in shared vehicles. The fleet includes current model Chevrolet Cruze and Cruze Hatchback, Malibu, Tahoe and Volt; GMC Acadia and Yukon; and Cadillac ATS and Escalade.
Maven is deploying more than 100 Bolt EVs (pictured here) in Los Angeles, where the hope is users will drive 250,000 all-electric miles per month (Bolt has a 238 mile range between charges, more than enough for a daily commute). Other Maven cities are Ann Arbor, Michigan; Atlanta; Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Detroit; Jersey City, New Jersey; Nashville, Tennessee; New York City; Orlando; Phoenix; San Diego; San Francisco; Washington, D.C.; and Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.
Part of the appeal of shared rides like Maven, or even Zipcar, are convenience and low cost. Hourly rates are as low as $8, plus tax including gas and insurance, making Maven often less expensive than a taxi or car service. Unlike other local car-sharing services, Maven has no membership or application fees, and unlike Uber, there are no surge-pricing fees.
BMW calls it’s program ReachNow, and labels it as “premium car sharing”. Users can share 3 Series, i3 electrics and MINI models like the MINI convertible ecoxplorer Evelyn Kanter is pictured with here, in Portland, Seattle and in Brooklyn. Don’t ask me why BMW chose those locations to launch the program, why the rest of New York City is excluded, or whether ReachNow will expand to other cities.
But expansion is not looking good. ReachNow charges a $20 flat rate for one hour or less, and a $50 flat rate for three hours. That’s about double what Maven or Zipcar costs, and day rates can be higher than traditional rental companies Hertz, Avis, Budget, National or Enterprise.
BMW’s car sharing program is more successful in Europe, where launched in 2011 as DriveNow. There are more than 600,000 users in cities including, BMW headquarters city, Munich, Berlin, London, Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Don’t ask me either why BMW calls its car sharing program DriveNow in Europe and ReachNow in the USA.
Nissan has launched a car sharing service in Japan featuring its ultra-compact and futuristic electric vehicle known as the Nissan New Mobility Concept. It’s a variation on the Twizzy (shown here) from Nissan sibling company Renault. There’s no word yet whether Nissan will be expanding this program to the USA. Fingers crossed.
Ford has a different approach to car-sharing. Instead of offering company-owned vehicles to share, Ford wants you to share your own Ford vehicle and earn some money to offset your monthly finance charges. Ford has partnered with the peer-to-peer (P2P) car-sharing network Getaround to share their financed vehicles with pre-screened drivers signed up with Getaround.
So far, the program is operating in six cities: Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, Portland, Chicago and Washington, D.C., where there are a total of 14,000 eligible vehicles financed by Ford Credit, to share by the hour, day or week, to rent, locate, and unlock the car instantly from the Getaround app. Each trip is covered by Ford’s $1 million primary insurance policy and includes 24/7 customer support and roadside assistance.
San Francisco recently announced a partnership with Getaround to dedicate nearly 1,000 on-street parking spaces for car share vehicles, via the SFMTA Car Sharing Policy & Pilot Project.
Ford claims that some members are earning an average of $521 per month in San Francisco, with some Getaround owners earning more than $10K each year. That will help pay off your new Mustang (pictured here) pretty quickly.
Unlike traditional car rental services located at airports and busy downtown locations, car sharing services, especially P2P programs like Getaround, are in low-income and low-density areas, providing convenient and affordable access to transportation. Recent research from New York University shows that P2P carsharing has a significant positive economic impact on middle and lower income families.
Also, car sharing is good for the environment, since each carshare vehicle removes 9-13 other cars from the road, offsetting up to 100,000 pounds of C02.
Since cars for sharing are new and packed with appealing safety technology and comfort features and amenities, it’s an easy introduction to a brand or model for when millennials grow up to be a family with kids, and owning becomes more convenient than sharing.