car sharing Free-floating car sharing: current developments and trends
Free-floating car sharing provides the opportunity for people to book cars in their local area without the need to visit a car hire station. Its popularity creates a number of flow-on effects in mobility as a service, electric vehicle adoption, and peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing.
Over the last decade, Free-floating carsharing systems (FFCS) have anchored themselves as an appealing urban mobility option. The first system launched in Ulm, Germany, in 2008. Unlike hire cars which require pick up and return from a central point, FFCS is geofencing around a city and can be dropped off anywhere within inside the fence. The cars can be rented on-demand with just one app and unlock them in only a few taps.
The car on-demand hires offer a compelling alternative to private cars ownership. There's no need to pay for insurance, gas, parking fees, maintenance—these are embedded in the per-minute cost of renting a car. The average vehicle is parked on average 95 percent of the time while the owner is at home or work, a hire car reduces the number of older vehicles on the road and the need for private parking. Each carsharing vehicle is said to replace up to eight cars. FFCS also means that impromptu journeys are made possible with cars typically within easy walking distance. Customers have a choice of the style and size of cars, increasing the appeal of the service.
FFCS has evolved in a short time to include several trends:
One of the interesting trends emerging is the inclusion of FFCS in a network of mobility offerings integrated into one platform that provides a range of options for travel. An example is Poppy from Belgium. It's a platform where consumers can choose between some 1,000 vehicles: 300 cars, 300 scooters, and 400 kick scooters are divided between the cities of Antwerp and Brussels.
There are also car rental companies such as Sixt in Germany that combine traditional car rentals from a central point with FFCS, perhaps an opportunity to compare the market strength of both simultaneously.
Besides a free-floating setup, providers are rolling out peer-to-peer (P2P) carsharing services enabling people to rent out their cars locally to other drivers. An example is Getaround, a platform where cars can be rented by the hour, or the day, with a $1M insurance policy and 24/7 roadside assistance included. Cars can be rented by the hour, or the day, with a $1M insurance policy and 24/7 roadside assist. Once assessed eligible to list on the platform, cars are fitted with an electric device at an approved vendor called Getaround Connect™ that provides GPS tracking, anti-theft functionality, and cellular communications to a secure network for the purpose of carsharing.
Using the Getaround iPhone or Android app, owners and verified renters can lock and unlock the doors of Getaround cars. The Getaround Connect™ securely tracks the location of the vehicle and includes anti-theft functionality that disables the car's starter when not in use by the owner or by a verified renter.
Headquartered in San Francisco, Getaround has thousands of cars available throughout major metropolitan areas across the United States. In 2018 the company raised a $300 millionSeries D led by SoftBank Vision Fund that valued it at $800 million, according to its Crunchbase profile. Other investors include Toyota Motor Corporation. They become the global carsharing leader a year later when the acquired Drivy. The acquisition broadened their Getaround's presence into 170 European cities, with more than five million users between the two companies.
Longer rentals becoming an option
Currently, research suggests that FFCS services primarily used for shorter trips with a median rental time of 27 min. The actual driving time closer to 15 min. However, providers are also responding to an interest in longer journeys, for example, Sixt FFCS can be rented up to and including 27 days.
Carsharing providers across all markets are increasingly electrifying their fleets. For example, WeShare, a service provided by UMI (a sub-subsidiary of Volkswagen) has a 100 percent electric fleet. SHARE NOW has a fleet that is over 70 percent electric cars with 100 percent electric fleets in Paris, Stuttgart, Amsterdam, and Madrid.
What can we expect in the future?
Set up for FFCS on the factory floor
FFCS provides keyless entry to vehicles with the app enabling the vehicle key to open and lock the car (for parking). The key is in the glove compartment. Given the interest in car fleets for FFCS, it's foreseeable that we could see this functionality integrated into cars are part of the manufacturing process as opposed to the current agnostic retrofit by white label smart lock providers.
Power companies increase their interest in car sharing
With the increase of electrical fleets for FFFCS, we can expect a growing attraction in car sharing by power companies. Electric vehicles can only be viable in cities where street-based charging stations are plentiful. Last year, Berlin startup Ubitricity began their efforts to bring 1,600 charging stations to the streets and buildings of Berlin with over 1,000 of these integrated into existing street light infrastructure.
Research reveals that energy companies are also invested in carsharing, such as Germany energy company Innogy SE and PGE Nowa Energia's commitment to 4Mobility. It's a trend we can expect to expand as traditional oil and gas companies seek to diversify in response to the trend towards sustainable energy.
Self-driving and self-parking
Self-driving cars will change the experience of carsharing. A vehicle could literally come to you via a command in an app, and cars of the future could also visit charging stations or service centres of their own volition as needed.
The challenge of less urban areas persists
Research into FFCS is limited by publicly open data. But what is clear is that FFCS is mostly focused on urban areas with good public transport. Research by the University of Minho asserts that FFCS would not work in a city with parking restrictions and poor quality or low-dense public transport system, because car renters may not be guaranteed a car for the return journey. For FFCS to work, it needs a local government commitment to the underlying structures that make it viable: cars available in reasonably close proximity, suitable public parking, and adequate public charging stations for electric fleets.
How we move around our cities in the future will grow more complex. If money and government support are limited to urban solutions at the expense of more equitable options, there'll be a lot of people without the opportunity to give up their older gas-guzzling vehicles.