How fast is the urban mobility landscape changing? Last year, when Navigant Research published its Carsharing Programs report, San Francisco, California-based rideshare company Lyft operated in around four U.S. cities and touted 30,000 members. A year later, Lyft operates in 30 U.S. cities and, in April, the company raised $250 million in a Series D investment round. Lyft immediately began making moves to secure greater market share by lowering its prices in all cities by up to 20%. Meanwhile, Uber, the U.S. leader in app-based car services, continues to add new UberX service locations, including one in Singapore, after raising $258 million in funding in August 2013.
Granted, Uber and Lyft are not carsharing companies exactly. They are mainly alternatives to taxi or livery services. But they do share DNA with carsharing. These companies operate somewhat like peer-to-peer (P2P) carsharing services, such as Relay Rides, which also serve as a way for non-professional drivers and those in need of a car to connect, as well as to maximize the utility of someone’s underutilized car. And, P2P car services could compete with one-way carsharing, a business model that has taken off in the past few years thanks to companies like Autolib’, car2go, and DriveNow. These services are all part of the new collaborative economy, which depends on a radically new attitude toward car ownership and the ubiquity of smart devices, apps, and software that makes the collaboration as seamless as possible.
The dramatic growth of P2P car services is just one example of how dramatically the transportation landscape is changing, with a clear shift away from the privately owned car as a primary transportation mode. Yes, this change is still largely concentrated in major urban areas and in developed countries. Meanwhile, rising car markets (like China) continue to show increases in sales to first-time car buyers, even as the pace of auto sales growth has slowed somewhat. Still, in a world that is becoming increasingly urbanized, and with the rise of megacities (cities with populations of 10 million or more), this mobility transformation is going to spread. In the world’s large cities, automakers will find their businesses increasingly squeezed by a range of other transportation options, including the P2P car services and carsharing.
How much of a threat will these options be to car companies? Carsharing will cut into car sales to some degree, but based on Navigant Research’s forecasts, vehicle sales reductions directly related to carsharing will be tiny compared to the total passenger car market, which globally reached around 82 million in 2013. But the broader transformation of urban mobility will have an impact on auto sales, as the many options for personal mobility make it easy to forgo buying a car during the time that fuel costs will be rising, along with the indirect costs of driving such as parking and traffic congestion.
This helps explain automakers’ interest in offering carsharing, which has the potential to provide substantial revenue. BMW and Daimler in particular each came roaring into this market in the last 18 months, capturing significant market share in the European cities where they operate. Daimler reports having 600,000 members in its car2go service, while BMW reports 215,000 members in DriveNow. In the Navigant Research report Alternative Revenue Streams for Automakers, revenue from original equipment manufacturer (OEM)-owned carsharing services is forecast to be in the billions as overall demand for collaborative car ownership grows and more OEMs enter this market. Carsharing represents a prime opportunity for automakers to ensure they play a central role in the changing mobility landscape.