Car-Sharing Services Grow, and Expand Options
By STEPHANIE STEINBERG and BILL VLASIC January 25, 2013
WASHINGTON - As more companies and even nonprofits enter the fast-growing business of car sharing, they are offering consumers new ways to customize their short-term rentals for convenience, reliability and cost.
Take the expanding Car2go service from Daimler, the German luxury-car maker. It rents only two-seat Smart cars, charges customers by the minute instead of the hour, and allows for one-way rentals and free street parking.
That appealed to Austin Fossey, who turned to Car2go when his pregnant wife, Brooke, went into labor at 2 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning. He pulled up the Car2go app on his cellphone and reserved a tiny Smart car parked near the couple's home in Washington. Car2go was exactly what they needed - a one-way drive to the hospital, at 38 cents a minute, with free parking on city streets and no requirement to return the vehicle.
"We wanted to just drop the car off and not have to worry about it," Ms. Fossey, 31, said in a recent interview as she held her newborn son, Ethan.
Car2go is one of about two dozen car-sharing services in the United States, and its one-way vehicle rentals are the latest wrinkle in the growing industry.
Providers range from small, nonprofit organizations to big corporations like Hertz, a longtime leader in the car rental industry, and Daimler, which started Car2go five years ago in Germany and now operates 1,800 vehicles in six American cities.
New players are also getting in, including Avis Budget Group, another stalwart in the traditional rental business, which earlier this month agreed to buy the vehicle-sharing company Zipcar for $491 million.
They are all drawn by the rising popularity of car sharing. Last year, about 800,000 people belonged to car-sharing services in the United States, a 44 percent increase from 2011, according to Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
..***** Moderator's Note *****
Car sharing, to my view, is the killer app. It's not the product that matters, but the fact that the logistics of finding and renting and getting a bill for a short-term rental can be done with a smartphone.
This is a new level. It's the point where everyone is so used to /having/ the capability that they don't even wonder whether else anyone does. This is the same knee point in the the curve where the first pizza-delivery service started to take calls.
Bill Horne Moderator