Today, roughly 50% of the world's population lives in urban environments, and by 2030, the figure is expected to hit 60%. This presents an interesting challenge for automakers: given the hassle of car ownership in cities -- not to mention subways, buses, and other transportation methods available there -- how will car manufacturers keep selling their products?

We don't have any easy answers, but it appears that some automakers -- especially the German ones -- are putting their bets on car-sharing.

First, we heard about Smart offering car shares in Texas. (As an aside, we also learned about Daimler's carpooling program, car2gether.) Earlier this year, BMW launched a similar program on its side of the Pond. Now, Volkswagen has said that in the fall, it will bring car-sharing to the city of Hanover.

VW's program is called "Quicar – Share a Volkswagen", and it will feature the highly efficient VW Golf BlueMotion diesel. (The VW Caddy and the new VW Beetle could soon join the roster, too.) Like Zipcar and similar car-sharing programs, VW's rides will be available at sites across the city. To rent them, users will need to register online and book their car in advance-- though they can do so with very little notice. On the lot, renters whip out a chipped membership card to unlock their ride and gain access to the keys inside.

The bigger picture

There's been lots of discussion about car-sharing programs recently, and many analysts wonder if they can evolve into viable businesses. Some programs, like RelayRides, look like iffy prospects, but those run by automakers themselves seem much better conceived and potentially profitable.

We're not completely sold on these programs ourselves, but we realize that as urban environments make car ownership more troublesome, it's entirely possible that car sales could falter. Car-sharing might pick up the slack by generating additional profits for automakers. (After all, everyone needs to make an IKEA run sometime.) What's more, car-sharing seems like a great way to get the public behind the wheel of new models, so some renters could eventually be converted to owners.

It's a new sales and marketing paradigm, to be sure, but it's so crazy it just might work.

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Volkswagen starts car sharing project in Hanover

  • Mobility concept takes to the streets in the fall with 200 VW Golf BlueMotion
  • Close cooperation with the city – up to 100 locations in the medium term

Hanover/Wolfsburg, 12 May 2011 - Volkswagen is mobilizing Hanover. The Group is launching a new car sharing concept in the Lower Saxony capital this fall featuring 200 VW Golf BlueMotion. The name: “Quicar – Share a Volkswagen”. The city of Hanover and Europe’s largest automaker signed a letter of intent to this effect. “Highlights of the project featuring our particularly efficient models include high vehicle availability and excellent functionality of the overall concept. And we are integrating private customers, students and authorities as well as commercial users,” Christian Klingler, Board Member for Sales and Marketing for the Volkswagen Passenger Cars brand, commented.

Volkswagen is cooperating closely with the city on this project. Stephan Weil, Mayor of Hanover, explained: "Innovative traffic concepts are always very interesting for our city. We are delighted that Volkswagen is launching a car sharing project here. Hanover has a population of some 520,000 and is a major industrial powerhouse, trade fair venue and service location, a university city and, not least, the capital of Lower Saxony – so it is the ideal setting for such a project."

The first model in the fleet will be the VW Golf BlueMotion. Its 1.6 TDI diesel engine has an average fuel consumption of a mere 3.8 liters per 100 kilometers, corresponding to CO2 emissions of only 99 grams per kilometer. A start-stop system and recuperation (brake energy regeneration) are standard features and make sure the Volkswagen fleet in Hanover ranks among the most efficient car sharing service providers. In the medium term other models such as the VW Caddy or the newly launched VW Beetle will be added to the fleet.

To start there will be some 50 pick-up and drop-off locations dotted all over the city. In the medium term, this number could reach 100. It is easy for customers to collect and return their cars to these stations. The advantage of this system is its very high availability. Customers interested in car sharing will be able to register and find out more at shops located across the city.

The principle of the concept is very user-friendly. Once customers have registered they can book a Golf BlueMotion via the Internet, a special app or a call center up to five minutes before the car is needed. Collecting the vehicle only takes a few seconds. The customer holds a chip card or a chip fixed to the driver license over a reader fitted to the car and the vehicle is unlocked. The ignition key in located inside and the driver completes the authorization process by entering a PIN using the touch screen.

A completely new telematics and software solution for bookings, reservations and vehicle management has been developed for the car sharing fleet. In addition, all the vehicles are fitted with navigation and entertainment systems. Customers are issued with an additional SD memory card for this equipment, allowing them to save individual destinations or routes. And there is plenty of room for storing music, too.

[VW with an assist from John]