Monday, March 21, 2011

BMW enters the one-way carsharing market

Those premium German car companies must know something we don't!

BMW announced it was getting into the one-way carsharing business in Munich, with a fleet of 300 BMW 1-series and Minis, starting in April; followed by 500 vehicles in Berlin.  They're calling it "Premium Carsharing".

Parking will be a combination of floating, on street parking and garages within the large "Mittler Ring" area of Munich.

Drive-Now application fee will €29 (about $40 US). The charge for using vehicles is €0.29 per minute, which includes sales tax (the same rate that Daimler is charging in Hamburg). The Mini Cooper will have a maximum hourly charge of €14.90.   Drive-Now offers a special rate allowing  a customer can interrupt a trip but keep the DriveNow vehicle "on hold" at a cost of €0.10 per minute.  This addresses one of the common concerns customers worry about with one-way service.

The service, Drive-Now, will be 50-50 owned by BMW and Sixt Car Rental, with BMW providing the cars and technology and Sixt handlihng the operations.  BMW has created a new division for the service - BMWi - the i for innovation to indicate they're more than just an auto manufacturer.  BMW and Sixt say they aiming to provide service in many countries with a goal of 1 million members by 2020.

Of course, there's a app (!) to locate the closest vehicles.

This has got to have the existing carsharing companies in these cities worried (some more than others):
  • München - StattAuto München, DB Carsharing and Drive Carsharing; and 
  • Berlin - Cambio, Hertz Connect, Stadtmobil, DB Carsharing, Sixti Car Club (competing with their own brand) and Greenwheels 
Presumably Daimler car2go  executives are unhappy that the field is getting more crowded - especially with more versatile 4 door vehicles at competitive rates.

And what impact will this have on Zipcar's world strategy?

But perhaps it will be a repeat of the situation a decade ago when first generation carsharing companies worried about competition but found there was plenty of room for several companies in major cities - perhaps the existence of competition legitimizes the concept in consumers' minds?  But since application fees are so low, customers could certainly afford to join multiple services.

The launch of a second one-way carsharing service should put cities on notice that they need to "think outside of the box" to develop parking policies that not only accommodate these new mobility services, such as one-way carsharing and bikesharing but also promote them!  In the long run, I expect these services are going to be more like a public utility than anything else.   Although this will have beneficial effects for residents, if a city generates any significant revenues from vehicle registration fees, they will likely see this source decline, just as we're seeing lower gas tax revenues.