THE BLOG

Exploring Urban Mobility: Why This Car Company Wants You to Sell Your Car

24/07/2015 11:28 BST | Updated 23/07/2016 10:59 BST

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What if you could hire every parked car in your street? What if every driver in London swapped their scratched CD collection and fluffy dice on the rear-view mirror for an ultra-mobile driving alternative?

Owning a car in the city is, in practice, a pretty big drain. Not just on finances, but on space. According to TfL, there are 2.6m cars in London. That's over seven thousand miles of cars clogging up and polluting London's streets.

So does car ownership make any sense these days? A recent study by the RAC had average car usage at six hours per week. That means a car is parked for over 96% of its lifetime. In this brave new world of efficiency and optimization, it's surely only a matter of time before people realize that those fluffy dice are actually costing them quite a lot.

DriveNow is one of the companies around the world that are disrupting this traditional ownership model, and are helping to turn cities into cleaner, greener places to live. A joint venture between BMW (who provides the brand and tech knowledge, and fleet of cars) and Sixt (who brings car rental and customer service expertise), it's a fully flexible, 'free-floating' car sharing service. This means you can pick up a car anywhere in the catchment area, and drop it off in any legal parking space, wherever you want within the business area. With prices set from 32p per minute, a 20 minute journey works out cheaper than UberX, creating a whole new market niche. Why get driven along the main roads when you can take the short cuts yourself?

DriveNow launched globally in Munich in 2011, and expanded into the first four London boroughs (Hackney, Islington, Haringey and Waltham Forest) in December 2014. We chose this area in London because of the high concentration of 'early adopters'; tech-savvy, ahead-of-the curve people who are willing to try something new. We've been working closely with the four London councils, who - like their residents - have been willing to experiment. We're now at the point where customers are asking us to expand through London, and we're hopeful of getting more local councils onside and increasing our coverage area in the coming months.

What a lot of Londoners or councils seem to struggle with initially is what the differences between DriveNow and the traditional forms of car sharing like Zipcar are. For us, the key differentiator is that DriveNow offers completely flexible one-way travel. There are so many areas of London that are still not fully connected by public transport, and we've found a lot of our customers are using the cars for one-way trips to get from A to B, without having to go back to A again. The fact that over 10,000 people are already using DriveNow after six months shows just how much Londoners wanted the service.

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What's more, DriveNow is taking cars off the road. A recent study in Germany found that 61% of customers had given up their own privately owned car since signing up for car sharing services. Rather than eroding public transport use, the study also showed that car sharing services fit seamlessly into established transport options. For example, 65% of car sharing customers still use public transport more than once a week. In fact, it's estimated that for every one DriveNow car added to the fleet, between seven and 13 privately owned cars will be taken off the road.

So we're taking cars off London's streets - great - but it's not enough. We also want to make London a greener city by pushing the use of electric cars (EVs). EVs have a hugely important role to play in London's future as air quality levels worsen and the population rises. As a Kings Cross resident, I feel the effects of poor air quality personally - so much is caused by un-needed trips in old cars and vans that simply shouldn't be on the streets anymore, and that's a problem that we can help solve.

DriveNow currently has a fleet of 30 electric BMW i3 vehicles, in addition to 240 BMW 1 series and MINI Countryman models, equipped with highly efficient engines. We'd like to add more i3s to the London fleet, but before we do that we have to work with third parties to ensure the charging infrastructure is working, and at a good standard. At the moment, it needs massive improvement in terms of both reliability and accessibility. London also is in desperate need of rapid charging points. Waiting three hours to charge a car is completely impractical (and what's more, completely unnecessary given technology exists that will charge EVs in 20 minutes). It's key that London invests in this - we need infrastructure to kickstart ownership.

I think we're only at the start of the on-demand/sharing revolution - or whatever we end up calling it. It's a trend that's going to accelerate, develop and go in new directions. As far as mobility goes, we believe that what people want (and what people will realise is a far cheaper and more efficient way of doing things) is a more convenient, sustainable alternative to owning a car in a city. We've created a product that fits the way that people want to live - on demand - with the added flexibility of being able to park wherever they want. It's a real game changer, and we hope you join us.