Airbnb is shaking up the hotel industry with its online peer-to-peer accommodation sharing model, and soon we could see a similar service offered for cars.
Car sharing already exists in many of the world’s major cities, but the cars are usually owned by a company, sometimes even an automaker, such as in the case of Mercedes-Benz's Car2Go. An Airbnb-style model would see individual car owners lending their cars to strangers, in return for cash. Mercedes is now about to test the waters with just such a service.
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Speaking during September’s 2016 Paris auto show, CEO Dieter Zetsche said under a trial program to be run in San Francisco and parts of Germany, Mercedes and Smart owners will be able to select dates when their cars are available for sharing, for example when they’re away on holidays. Just like existing car-sharing programs, their cars would be fitted with hardware that allows them to be unlocked and started using a smartphone.
For the trial in San Francisco, Mercedes is partnering with an existing peer-to-peer car sharing company known as Getaround. On the company’s website, it says cars can be booked from as little as $5 per hour and that all cars come with insurance coverage and 24/7 roadside assistance. Participants are also screened to ensure they have a safe driving record.
Mercedes sees car sharing as one of four core pillars of future mobility. The others include connectivity, electric propulsion and self-driving capability. To focus on these developments, since some of them are intrinsically related, Mercedes launched at the Paris auto show the new EQ sub-brand. This is where you’ll see the first of Mercedes' next-generation electric cars and eventually, perhaps, a self-driving car.
While it’s impossible to predict the future, Mercedes, along with most other automakers, ride-sharing companies and even tech firms, see the arrival of the self-driving car and car sharing going hand in hand. Today it’s common for a car to only be in use for less than an hour per day. It’s not hard to imagine that with self-driving technology, cars could be running about for most of the day on their own, offering rides in exchange for cash. Who in the future will actually own the cars? The automakers or the individual? Time will tell.