What!? I'm supposed to get around in this little two-seater?
I'm stepping into my first Car2Go, to take a ride around downtown Washington, D.C., and the car looks like this:
After phone calls to customer service, I figure out how it works. I've got my membership card, and I need to place it on the transponder of the windshield:
When I get inside, there's a little electronic dashboard, where I have to enter a PIN number, report any apparent damage to the car and rate its cleanliness:
Ignition beside gearshift
"Please rate the vehicle's cleanliness."
Finally, I place the key in the ignition, which is in a peculiar spot near the gearshift, and I'm off:
Anyways, it's my first ride and fairly uneventful. The vehicle drives quite smoothly, and its compactness, while a little jarring, makes it extremely easy to park.
So, what's the bottom line here?
From a consumer perspective, it's a very competitive market: Do I use Car2Go, which charges $0.41 per minute for the first 37 minutes, and $14.99 for every hour thereafter? Or do I use Zipcar, whose rates in D.C. are $8.25 per hour on weekdays, and $9.75 per hour on Friday to Saturday?
The answer seems to come down to convenience and spontaneity. Zipcars live in set parking spots, and must always be returned to their origin, whereas you take a Car2Go from wherever you find it, and leave it wherever you park. If you have a short 12-minute weekday ride, you'll only pay $4.92 for the Car2Go, but you'll pay for the entire hour at $8.25 for a Zipcar.
From a fuels or automotive industry perspective, how do these services affect consumer demand? I have reflected on this many times and still don't have an answer. If car-sharing services take personally owned vehicles off the road, do they simply increase the utilization of the remaining vehicles? Do VMT and fuel consumption remain the same overall? Further research may reveal answers to these questions.
But in the meantime, I'd like to share some personal reactions. Despite how nifty the service is, it still has some serious limitations.
The most obvious is that you can't order a vehicle-either it's there or it's not, which means there is no reliability for trip types like daily commuting.
If you decide to use the parking option, whereby you park the Car2Go but it's still yours while parked, you are paying $14.99 per hour to park the car. But if you don't reserve the vehicle while it's parked, there's a chance it won't be there when you return.
What they really need is an on-demand system, some kind of Uber for Car2Go where you hit a button in your app the nearest available car comes to you. If self-driving cars ever make it mainstream, they could fill this gap and offer a huge improvement in the convenience of Car2Go.
Here's another complaint: The vehicle doesn't accelerate very quickly. I felt like I was driving a dune buggy or a scooter. Definitely would not recommend using this vehicle for interstate driving because merging lanes could be dangerous.
Bottom line is that Car2Go is a nifty, nimble service for spontaneous, short, one-way trips in an urban area. There is definitely room for improvement, but it's a solid first-generation effort. What could truly make it ubiquitous would be a powerful, sophisticated on-demand ordering system.
Read more from the September Issue of our Fuel for Thought newsletter.
Hart Schwartz is the Research Consultant of Clarify Consulting Research. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.