Automakers are launching car-sharing companies around the world. It’s a good way to appeal to the fickle habits of millennials, who in survey after survey have indicated they’d 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. If it’s an electric vehicle, you can get bonus points for plugging it into a charging station.
Mercedes-Benz debuted the system, with its car2go program launched in Germany in 2008 and expanded to the U.S. the following year. Car2go users share the smartcar, including the EV version. It’s turned out to be a smart move for Mercedes, since many more smartcars are shared though car2go than are purchased for full-time ownership.
Audi just completed the purchase of Silvercar, an Audi-only rental company with locations in Texas and California. Expect to see Silvercar expand to more airport locations, and perhaps downtown, too.
General Motors calls its Maven a “personal mobility brand.” Since launching in 2016, Maven has signed up some 25,000 members in 17 cities in the U.S. 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 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, Mich.; Atlanta, Ga.; Baltimore, Md.; Boston, Mass.; Chicago Ill.; Denver, Colo.; Detroit, Mich.; Jersey City, N.J.; Nashville, Tenn.; New York City, N.Y.; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix, Ariz.; San Diego and San Francisco, Calif.; 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 its program ReachNow, and labels it as “premium car sharing.” Users can share 3 Series, i3 electrics, and MINI models, in Portland, Or., Seattle, Wash., and Brooklyn, New York. 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, about double what Maven or Zipcar costs, and day rates are more than Hertz, Avis, Budget, and National.
BMW’s car-sharing program is more successful in Europe, where it launched in 2011 as DriveNow, which now touts more than 600,000 users in cities including BMW headquarters city Munich, Berlin, London, Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Stockholm.
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 from Nissan sibling company Renault. There’s no word yet whether Nissan will be expanding this program to the U.S. Fingers crossed.
Since cars for sharing are new and packed with appealing safety technology and comfort features and amenities, it’s an easy introduction to an automaker brand or model, keeping them top of mind when millennials grow up to be a family with kids, and owning becomes more convenient than sharing.