Thursday, June 07, 2007

U-Haul Gets in the Carsharing Game

They are probably the last company I would have imagined interested in carsharing, so I actually didn't realize what I was looking at the first time I drove by a line of white PT Cruisers on a U Haul Truck Rental location in Portland recently.

But perhaps there's some logic to it. Like the car rental business, truck rentals must be very competitive and I would be surprised if there was much growth potential in their industry at this point, so carsharing is a related business and one that doesn't cannabalize from their existing core business. I think that U-Haul has two important things going for it: name recognition and many neighborhood locations (think of their parking lots as big pod locations of vehicles). On the negative side, the internet is full of messages from people complaining about the U-Haul's poor customer service.

The website,, says the rates are $10/hour or $65/day including gas and apparently full insurance coverage. There is a $25 application fee and $50/year membership. A charge card must be supplied as part of the application process.

The website lists 15 locations in 9 cities that will initially offer the service, all in cities that currently have carsharing operations. Possibly they want to avoid having to educate people as to what carsharing is and find out how competitive their service will be. The cities are: Austin, Ann Arbor, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, and Washington DC.

Right now the sole vehicle option appears to be the Chrysler PT Cruiser. I've always thought the PT Cruiser would be an excellent choice for a carsharing vehicle - it's versatile, distinctive and it's reasonably priced. (But then I started my company with all Dodge Neons, on which the PT Cruiser is based, so one would be entitled to question my judgement.) For what it's worth, all the vehicles in Portland were purchased from a dealer in U-Haul's home town of Phoenix, Arizona.

U Car Share has definitely been paying attention to the other carshares, with a catchy slogan that's definitely environmentally-oriented: Reduce, Replenish, Sustain that appears on the back of the some of the vehicles - saying that it's all about "reducing our carbon footprint and our reliance on fossil fuels" and that they have partnered with "GoZero" carbon offset program of the The Conservation Fund. The backs of other vehicles proclaim: "Where will you go next? Electronics store, Wholesale store, Furniture store"

As of today U-Haul's carsharing service doesn't appear to be ready to roll - the U Haul web site still isn't set up for hourly rental yet and vehicles don't appear to have any electronics in them. Apparently they know they're not ready, since the website says, "After you receive your [reservation] confirmation, simply stop by your office location and get the keys to your car". And the people at my U-Haul branch weren't familiar with how much the service actually cost, referring me to the website. I was told that in the two weeks since they got the cars "about 5 people had inquired about it" (no doubt several from Flexcar branch here) and no cars had been rented.

U Haul truck rental allows people down to age 18 and there's no reference to minimum age for carsharing on the website. The paperwork shows the the same insurance carrier that is listed for the truck insurance is providing the carsharing vehicle insurance. In addition to the standard MVR check, the member agreement says they will use the CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Evaluation) report, which also includes a look at the applicant's insurance claim history, and results in a few more people being denied.

If only they'd talked to me before they started!