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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Car sharing gains traction

The concept of letting drivers with intermittent transportation needs share vehicles instead of owning them has gained steady momentum since Zipcar began popularizing the practice in 1999.  Since then, the Avis-owned company has influenced a growing movement.

Besides Zipcar, there are now several firms offering communities consumer-access to fleets of automobiles for errands, day trips or whatever, for an hour, a day or longer.

City CarShare, Getaround, MINT, I-GO Cars and RelayRides are just a few of the companies joining the bandwagon.  And besides serving metropolitan regions, car share services are enjoying success on college campuses across the nation — enough success, in fact, that automobile manufacturers are seeing benefits of car sharing applications.

College students are natural prospects, occasionally needing autos but wanting neither the parking nuisance nor the operational costs (maintenance, insurance, depreciation) associated with vehicle ownership.

Students not only fit the profile for car sharing, but are seen by auto manufacturers as viable future prospects for vehicle purchases.  Offering their vehicles for car sharing on college campuses is a natural way for automakers to build brand awareness when young customers are ready to buy.

General Motors is the latest to join Ford and Nissan in the car sharing endeavor.  G.M.’s Maven service will allow residents of cities and campuses to request use of Chevrolet vehicles via smartphone apps for 6 to 12 dollars per hour.

According to John Irwin, of Automotive News, G.M’s program will begin with vehicles available at 21 parking areas in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to the University of Michigan campus and the tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff who do not own automobiles.

Nissan’s college car sharing program is a joint-effort with Enterprise CarShare, where Nissan vehicles are made available at 90 colleges nationwide for 5-dollar-per-hour rentals.  G.M. and Nissan are competing with Zipcar, which operates on about 500 campuses in the United States.  Ford launched its pilot program by providing 1000 Ford vehicles to Zipcar for college campus availability.

The concept has now reached beyond major cities and huge campuses.  Zipcar offers car sharing to students in our local area at Gonzaga and Washington State University.

G.M.’s recent foray is part of a bigger mobility movement being forecast and representing alternatives to personal car ownership.  Another example of that is G.M.’s 500 million dollar investment in Lyft, a smaller competitor of the Uber ride service.  G.M has also purchased the assets of the shuttered Sidecar, a company that pioneered the routing technology linking smartphone users with drivers of ride services.

Typical of any car sharing service, Zipcar’s 4 steps for users are: Join, reserve, unlock and drive.  After online application approval, cars are simply reserved, driven as needed (gasoline and insurance included), then returned to the designated parking spot from which they were picked up.  A permanent “Zipcard” or mobile app allows drivers to unlock the reserved vehicle, which also contains a visor-affixed gas card for fuel purchases. 

Kelly Blue Book analyst Jack Nerad claims the “jury is still out” as to whether car sharing and ride sharing will become the predominant way for young “millennials” and others to get around, but it’s a good bet for automakers to get on board.

I think it’s a great way for manufacturers to expose potential buyers to their cars by physically placing students and other young people in the drivers’ seats of their products.  A classic win-win scenario!

Readers may contact Bill Love via email at