Thursday, October 20, 2011

Carsharing Update for October

I've been traveling the past month (a bicycle trip in Croatia) and there's lots to report while I was gone.  One certainly gets the impression that the carsharing industry is moving into high gear these past few months.  There's lots to report:

RelayRides and General Motors partnership — RelayRides continues with yet another very significant high-level partnership with GM's OnStar division.  This enable the OnStar telematics installed in all new GM vehicle to serve as the "on board computer" enabling them to sign up with RelayRides and immediately start renting their vehicle, nothing to install.  Vehicle owners would still have to subscribe for other OnStar services — emergency help, turn by turn navigation instructions, automatic crash response, stolen vehicle location.

This is the first announcement of what I expect to be other telematics partnerships as cars increasingly become wired.*

Autolib starts its shakedown in Paris — The all-electric, station-based service that's been the source of some controversy in Paris, launched at the beginning of October with 66 vehicles at 33 stations, each with 4 to 6 parking spaces.  The next major ramp up is scheduled for December with 250 of the projected 3,000 stations set to open.

Annual Autolib memberships will cost 144 €, and rates will be 5 € for every half-hour of driving — about the cost of 2 Metro tickets, as one new report observed.  Daily and weekly subscriptions will also be available for 10 and 15 € respectively with higher rates 7€ per 30 min. rates.   

New members can join using the futuristic waiting rooms (?) and will be able present and passport and credit card and activate their membership.  It's not know yet whether visitors from the US, without the European standard issue chip card, will face the same hurdle as those trying to use Velib.

Industrial giant, EV manufacturer, Bollor√©, seems to be overcoming early skepticism that their BlueCar vehicle would be ready on time. They are also major investor in the project.

There are already reports that London is interested in developing their own EV carsharing service as well.

If you just can't get enough here's a short video showing the vehicles, stations etc.  

London's Streetcar begins conversion to Zipcar — The Tweets are starting to fly, preparing Streetcar (and Zipcar) members for the upcoming integration.  Rates have been published and FAQs have been written.  The challenge for Zipcar will be to keep their customers happy service as Streetcar's "home town" identity goes away.  And the usual Zipcar bells and whistles will apply — smart phone apps, phone/text reservations and reminders, etc.

Lowering the rates slightly, at least on weekdays, is a good first step. For example a VW Polo's drop from £5.25 to £5.00 per hour and daily rates drop from £52.50 to £49. VW Golf and BMW 1 series also dropped by £0.25 per hour.  Included miles increase from 20 miles per calendar day to 40 miles. Excss miles increased slightly from 23p to 25p.   Only the BMW3 series and van/transporter rates increased a tiny amount from £8.95 to £9.00 per hour.  Annual membership fee of £59.50 stays the same, as do the cost of various insurance options.  Weekend rates are £1 - £2 per hour over weekday rates.  A summary of Zipcar's London rates is here:

A VW Up!
VW Quicar adds car rental — They haven't even launched in Hannover, Germany and VW is making a last-minute addition to the service.  In addition to the 200 Golf BlueMotions in the original announcement, VW will be adding an option for members to rent 70 other vehicles for 10 hours minimum.  Vehicles include the new VW Up! (a sub-sub compact) for ten hours starts at €30 (about $41 when this was written); a Beetle at €40 (about $54) and the Golf cabriolet or Passat for €50 (about $68).  Pricing for the core Quicar carsharing usage is €6 (about $8.25) for the first 30 minutes and €0.20 (about $0.27) for each additional minute.

Like Peugeot Mu project, this looks to me like a car manufacturer is getting into the car rental business.

Closer to home, it's worth noting that the pace of RFPs from US cities to attract carsharing services to their communities continues.  As this is written, Austin, Knoxville and Eugene have RFPs on the street.  Why Austin, you might ask? They have car2go, what more do they want?  If you find out the answer, please post the answer in a comment below.  Thanks.

Suggestion to cities evaluating the proposals - don't get hung up on the membership fees, concentrate on the package the provider offers for attracting new members - time-limited discounts off the normal application cost (to get people to join), free usage for the first trip (to get people to actually use the service).  And don't worry about the second year membership fee.  If members aren't willing to pay $50 - $75 a year for access to the vehicles, they probably aren't using them anyway — in which case, the city isn't getting much benefit from a symbolic member!

Finally, the car2go juggernaut continues with the announcement of plans to offer the "mobility on demand" service in Lyon, France.   Daimler expects the free-parking zone to be about 44 square kilometers.  The car2go operation in Lyon will be another joint-venture with Europcar, similar to the car2go service in Hamburg, Germany.

I'll be watching to see if their Smart cars face the same rebalancing challenge that the public bicycle system in Lyon, Velo' V, faces — residents regularly "clean out" certain stations on top of a hill, taking the bikes downtown and then ride the bus home in the evening rather than pedal back home.  Maybe the gas power to get them back up the hill will avoid this problem.

That's it for this month.

- Dave

* I couldn't help but smile at a great opening line in a recent NY Times article on after-market gizmos for cars: "Cars, one of the great mobile devices to begin with, are about to get connected to the Internet like never before. It will change not just how we drive, but the economics of the car business."