A little over six months ago BMW started trials of a new car-sharing program in its hometown of Munich that allowed virtually anyone to rent one of its cars on an hourly basis, including high-performance models like the M3 and even the M6 range-topper. Dubbed ‘BMW On Demand’
, the pilot program is ongoing and is now spreading to other cities.
In partnership with fellow German firm Sixt AG, BMW has announced that the program, now called ‘DriveNow’, will be expanded to Berlin later this year and eventually other European cities. The automaker is seeking up to one million users for the program, which means there’s chance that even the U.S. may be included, though this wouldn’t be for several years at the earliest.
While the image of car-sharing may clash with whatever is left of BMW’s exclusivity cachet, the automaker is not afraid to acknowledge that the notion of car ownership is declining in crowded urban environments. And with more and more people predicted to be living in crowded cities going into the future, BMW wants to be ready for any changes in consumer trends.
BMW sales and marketing chief, Ian Robertson, explains: “As a mobility provider, the BMW Group is not simply an automobile manufacturer”.
Benefits for the automaker include new revenue streams, greater brand awareness and even a reduction in traffic volumes. BMW is also quick to point out that its new DriveNow program is the first car sharing concept to place an emphasis on efficient premium vehicles and comprehensive service. Vehicles may be hired and dropped off wherever the customer needs them, thus clearly differentiating DriveNow from products offered by other competitors.
BMW follows in the footsteps of Smart, the minicar maker owned by Mercedes-Benz. Smart's Car2Go car-sharing service
was tested in Ulm, Germany, late in 2008 and officially launched there in early 2009, with plans for other cities to follow.
Smart also piloted its Car2Go service in Austin, Texas, where city employees and enrolled users can rent its ForTwo minicars by the hour. That program has been running for 18 months now, and its brightly labeled Smarts can be seen all over downtown Austin.
The latest DriveNow program will initially use BMW 1-Series and MINI cars. It will be interesting to see if the brand with the blue and white roundal will be able to keep its cachet, which has been so finely crafted over the past several decades.