Carsharing continues to make the transition from a startup or non-profit culture to a corporate culture. More and more large companies are entering the space and acquiring smaller carshare services, and automaker services are adding high end vehicles to the quirky two-seaters. But the bigger news may be that carsharing is starting to show traction outside its traditional markets of highly developed car cultures—namely North America, Western Europe, and Japan.
A spate of recent announcements from automakers reflects continuing interest in on demand mobility services—not just carsharing, but also ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. The latest automakers to announce carsharing expansions are AB Volvo, the PSA Group, and Daimler AG. Volvo has been in the carsharing business since the late 1990s through Swedish carshare service Sunfleet. In January, the automaker announced it would create a business unit for global carsharing based on the Sunfleet service.
The PSA Group will be supplying EVs for a new carsharing service in Paris, targeting professionals as its primary customers. This mainly seems to entail offering larger vehicles such as the Peugeot Partner and Citroën Berlingo, both small panel vans. Daimler is also making a play for carshare users who want larger vehicles than the tiny smart fortwo vehicle that has made up its car2go fleet to date. But Daimler is going more upscale than panel vans. The company announced that it would begin incorporating Mercedes Benz sedans and SUVs into its car2go fleets in seven US cities.
These announcements reflect the wide range of approaches to carsharing that automakers are pursuing. Although automakers are demonstrating real interest in carsharing, they are still largely in an experimental phase, trying out different business models to see what gains traction and what best supports their respective brands. While some will likely find that the service does not suit their customer base or business strategy, the trend of establishing a separate business unit for shared mobility suggests that automakers are taking the carsharing market seriously.
Automakers that see shared mobility as a first application for automated vehicles will certainly continue to pursue these services. Small, quirky startup carshare companies may find it difficult to compete in that environment. It is likely that some small carshare companies will be acquired by automakers looking to establish a beachhead for carsharing in new markets. Note that consolidation is also happening through other big players in the shared mobility space, including Europcar. Through mobility startup Ubeequo, Europcar recently acquired a Milan carshare service called GuidaMi.
But it is even more interesting to see carsharing starting to break through in new geographic regions such as Thailand, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Kazakhstan. These are not necessarily locations that would seem obvious for carsharing—in some cases due to a lack of public transit, which is seen as a supporting pillar to a shared mobility environment. Perhaps most significantly, China is seeing a surge in on demand mobility services, as the government has begun encouraging shared mobility as one of many tools to combat congestion and pollution problems. These new markets have the potential to help the carshare market continue to grow as the mature markets become saturated.