Analysis: Will a shared car replace car ownership?

Car Sharing schemes - Drivenow BMW i3 Deputies and manufacturers believe carsharing will reduce CO2 emissions and its popularity is growing

If the level of motorization remains as it is now, the UK is not going to keep its promises on climate change. Deputies from the Committee on Science and Technology came to this conclusion last week.

Even electric cars are not seen as a panacea, mainly because factories will pump out too much CO2 to replace the car we currently buy them in. The committee's recommendations were pretty scary for any car owner. “In the long run, widespread personal car ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonization,” the report said.

However, not all vehicles were attacked. Car-share schemes follow from the report as a long-term option that keeps CO2 emissions in check, mainly because they are compatible with electrical engineering, but also because, according to a study from BMW and Daimler Share Services, one shared car can replace eight private cars.

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders told the committee that "a clear shift from traditional car ownership to usership has emerged in recent years," indicating that automakers are already considering carsharing programs.

Car-share schemes (or car clubs) are becoming more popular in the UK. The number of cars in such schemes has gone from 3188 in 2015 to 5385 this year and membership has risen from under 200,000 to 350,000, according to research by CoMoUK.

Of those vehicles, as many as 60% are based in London, where big players such as the Avis group of Zipcar, the Enterprise Automobile Club and BMW's DriveNow operate. It makes sense. It is more expensive and more of a hassle to own a car in a big city where there are many other transportation options. Says he or she has 270 members in London, making it the largest USowned brand on the market. Prices are at 000p per minute, but different plans are available.

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Manufacturers are also dipping their fingers into the water. Two long-running operations - BMW's DriveNow and Daimler's Car2Go - are in the process of merging to create ShareNow. Volkswagen launched the weshare site in June with an electric-only fleet starting in Berlin with 1500 e-golfs. The PSA Group also offers car sharing under its Free2Move Mobility brand, although in the UK it only offers cars through a rental agreement.

The business of carsharing, although it is hard work, BMW and Daimler are pooling their resources in part because their global car-sharing operations have not been profitable.

The business is much more difficult than just selling cars because the local conditions are so varied and the obstacles are not immediate. Despite coming to London in 2014, DriveNow even now only operates nine of London's 33 boroughs, largely because it has to negotiate parking with everyone. Daimler Car2Go quit London in 2014 and never returned. More recently, Zipcar has left Brussels, citing high levels of motorization there.

It is also difficult to imagine these replacement car ownership schemes outside of urban areas where the population density is much less. But automakers are not stopping. In the three years from the start of 2016 to the end of 2018, $48bn (£39bn) of investment totaling in the overall transport sector, including ride-hail firms such as Uber, were tracked by analysts at firm GlobalData.

“Consumers are becoming more comfortable with the concept of having access to shared products without the financial burden of private ownership,” Mike Vousden, GlobalData's automotive analyst, said.

The pain now is worth the prize (much) later - what an autonomous ride comes from. The Daimler and BMW company will combine hauling, car sharing, parking and EV charging in preparation for Self Driving Technology Day, they hope to pour billions into their coffers as we remotely whistle up autonomous cars.

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Even before that, there are benefits for rent. More and more ride-hail firms are running electric vehicles and it's great for dragging down a company's CO2 levels and reducing the likelihood of paying a fine under EU 2020 CO2 emissions standards.

“I see fleet manufacturers' carsharing as a highly calculated strategic move, helping them past the 2020/21 CO2 finish. They actually created their own sales channel for the fleet,” said Berlin-based technical political scientist Matthias Schmidt. “Just turn on the taps when needed.” He cites weshare, which, Volkswagen has already said, will also feature the new id 3 when it arrives next year, as well as 200 Moya electric ride-hail cars that will be registered as cars.

Hoping that the bulk of privately owned cars can be replaced by shared cars outside of UK cities is a pipe dream, but for city dwellers, it's fast becoming a welcome addition to an expanding range of transportation options.

Nick Gibbs


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