Carless in Seattle
Car makers are responding to the growth of car sharing and services such as Uber by creating their own fleets. Sales direct to the end consumer may be in danger of falling, but this drop can be offset by retaining ownership of the cars and then charging customers to use them via a subscription or one-off journey fee.
“One of the most important shifts in the car-sharing market over the past five years has been the advent of automotive company-led services,” says Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst with Navigant Research. “This has helped spur an increase in one-way car-sharing services.”
In April, BMW launched its ReachNow programme in Seattle, US. It's a service that allows people to use one of 370 pool cars – a choice of BMW 328xi Series, two-door and four-door MINI Coopers and the all-electric BMW i3. An impressive 13,000 people signed up in a month. “We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response,” said Dana Goldin, ReachNow’s head of marketing.
Certainly the reviewer on the Geekwire website was impressed. “There are many ways to describe my experience testing out BMW’s new car-sharing service in Seattle this weekend,” wrote Taylor Soper. “Fun. Exciting. Convenient. More simply, it was just really cool.”
A hitch-hiker’s dream
Car manufacturers realise car sharing will be a vital market. Jaguar Land Rover is launching a car-sharing service that will initially be offered only to the marques’ own customers across the world. But eventually it will be rolled out more widely. “It’s a race,” said Adrian Hallmark, strategy director of JLR.
A very competitive one. General Motors has taken a stake in Lyft – the US cab-hailing app – and bought driverless technology group Cruise for more than $1 billion. Daimler, which owns Mercedes-Benz, has also launched a car-sharing scheme in the US. Peugeot Citroën has announced it is looking at “mobility services” to boost revenues.
The world of car-sharing really is changing fast. All those years ago a hitch-hiker would have been thankful if a rusty jalopy stopped to offer a lift. The car sharer of tomorrow will have the choice of a brand new Jaguar, BMW or Mercedes. It will be interesting to see which one they give the thumbs up.