Looking back at 2011, one the biggest areas of change has been sharing cars (sharing the ownership of cars rather than the equally important lift sharing). Cars represent a huge opportunity for sharing because of the number of very expensive assets which spend the vast proportion of their time unused. Shared ownership of cars used to be relatively difficult to manage. Until recently most shared cars were in private syndicates, predominantly set up to own sports, classic or super cars.
Often the owners had found each other through car owners’ clubs. Because the cars are used infrequently, it is relatively easy to work out when the owners can use the car. The owners are also usually relatively wealthy and relieved simply to reduce the costs and responsibilities of ownership, so apportioning costs is fairly straightforward.
Car clubs like Zipcar and City Car Club have been gathering momentum for some time in the UK, USA and across Europe: the recession has definitely helped them. Car clubs bring people together around a car and manage all aspects of the shared ownership. But they generally operate in cities and suburbs. There are small car clubs in towns and rural areas, but few survive long.
A different model was required if car sharing was to hit the mainstream and I believe this has recently emerged with peer-to-peer rental. This allows people to advertise their car for hire by the hour, day or month. Like ebay, Couchsurfing and many collaborative consumption services, these systems depend upon reviews to develop the necessary trust systems. The owner reviews how well the renter looks after the car: cleanliness, tidiness, petrol as agreed, timeliness of return. Similarly the renter reviews the owner: was the car as advertised, clean, tidy, available etc.
RelayRides in the USA and WhipCar in the UK have forged the peer-to-peer car sharing way forward. In the USA, RelayRides led a change in the law in California to enable peer-to-peer rental: previous laws classified it as normal car hire and effectively made it impossible. HiGear is also pioneering peer-to-peer rental of luxury cars in the USA.
Finally the major car manufacturers are now getting involved. They probably hoped they wouldn’t have to, but they realise that car sharing may become mainstream and if they aren’t part of it, they will suffer. They also know that a shared car is often a person’s first car and they will be looking to hook them to their brand for life. Daimler has a new electric car club called car2go; Ford supplies many cars to Zipcar; BMW and Sixt car rental have created DriveNow car club (German); and Renault supplies Hertz On Demand (a hybrid of car hire and car club).
For more about sharing cars.