Update on February 17, 2016: RelayRides has changed its name to Turo.
Peer-to-peer (“P2P”) car-sharing is gathering some major mainstream steam in New England and the rest of the country. RelayRides, originally founded in Cambridge and now one of the major players in the P2P car-sharing space, has officially begun a partnership with General Motor’s OnStar service that will give millions of vehicle owners the ability to start making money off their vehicle in seconds. The new partnership has the potential to benefit not only the region’s environment, but also its economy and residents – cars owners and not, alike.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, P2P car-sharing works by providing a platform, usually a web-based car-sharing service, that connects renters with a short-term need for a vehicle directly to a vehicle owner willing to rent out their personal vehicle for a fee. In areas where it is available, P2P car-sharing provides financial benefits for all parties involved. Renters avoid the high costs of vehicle ownership while still having access to a vehicle for an hourly rate when needed. The car-sharing service collects a percentage of the vehicle owner’s rental revenue and gains access to a fleet of rental vehicles without incurring the huge capital costs involved in running a traditional car rental service. Meanwhile, vehicle owners can defray their own costs of ownership by collecting rental revenue during the time that their vehicle would otherwise sit unused.
In addition to being a potential boon for vehicle owners, the widespread adoption of P2P car-sharing could also have environmental benefits. A recent study by UC-Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center suggests that car-sharing reduces household vehicle ownership by both allowing households that own multiple vehicles to shed one or more and also deterring carless households from ever purchasing a vehicle. Environmental advocates hope that this reduction in household vehicle ownership will reduce the carbon footprint of transportation by resulting in a lower number of total vehicle miles traveled (“VMT”) and a decrease in traffic congestion.
The new RelayRides/OnStar partnership has the potential to take P2P car-sharing beyond the daydreams of ardent environmentalists. Having already invested an undisclosed sum in RelayRides’ early round venture financing, General Motors (“GM”) doubled down on their investment by giving RelayRides members integrated web-access to their network of nearly 6 million GM vehicles with active OnStar subscriptions. OnStar subscribers with an eligible GM vehicle will be able to sign up for RelayRides online through their OnStar account and allow members, with an approved reservation, to instantly unlock their vehicle using either a smartphone app or by replying to a text message.
The new web-access technology streamlines the P2P car-sharing experience, removing the need for renters and vehicle owners to arrange to meet in person and exchange keys. In addition, many OnStar equipped vehicles include theft-prevention technology that can block a vehicle’s ignition or force it to slow to a stop and theft recovery technology that includes pinpoint location through GPS. GM hopes the added security and convenience of the partnership will create an added incentive for subscription to or renewal of their OnStar service while RelayRides hopes the new technology will help differentiate it from competitors and increase membership.
As highlighted by the liability issues surrounding a fatal accident recently covered by the New York Times, there are still kinks to be worked out in the P2P car-sharing model. These include things like clarifying how car-sharing will be treated for insurance liability purposes. Despite these uncertainties, the partnership between GM and RelayRides could be a major step towards bringing P2P car-sharing closer to mainstream acceptance. Clf is hopeful that support from one of the world’s largest automakers is a good sign both for the burgeoning P2P car-sharing market and the environment as a whole.