At first glance, it makes no sense at all: A car company, Fiat, joining forces with a peer-to-peer car sharing network, Getaround, whose whole mission is to make it unnecessary to own a car. Do you want to run that by me again? Getaround says that each of its vehicles takes nine to 13 cars off the road.
But it makes a certain kind of if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em sense, explains Jessica Scorpio, a co-founder of Getaround and its marketing director. “Young people aren’t buying cars, and they’re not driving as much as their parents did,” she said. “The automakers are worried about that. We’re presenting a solution that helps them stay relevant, by attaching a revenue stream to the car. Young consumers will buy Fiats with the idea of helping pay for them with the $500 or $600 a month—as much as $40,000 a year—they can make by sharing them.”
The bottom line may be keeping young people behind the wheel, one way or another. If they’re sharing cars, or buying one just to share, at least they’re retaining the idea of an automobile as central to their lives. Eighteen percent of Americans have used a car-sharing service, and 60 percent are at least aware of early player Zipcar.
Getaround, based in San Francisco, and with operations also in San Diego, Austin, Portland (OR) and Chicago, is waiving the usual $99 installation fee for Fiat buyers a waiver, and Fiat in turn is offering Getaround users a big discount. In the first week, more than 350 people signed up for the deal. Fiat is also encouraging existing owners (it has 40,000 in the bay area alone) to take part.
Getaround makes it easy for both ends of the sharing transaction. The owner posts an online schedule of when he or she is using the car, and members who want to share it can reserve around that, then use their cellphones to gain access. There’s no face-to-face meeting, and no handing over of keys.
Getaround’s Fiat deal is not without precedent; the company had a similar deal with Mercedes last year, and it helped sell a lot of Smart cars. Asked about our automotive future, Scorpio says, “More and more people will give up on car ownership and just access vehicles when they need them. We hope we’ll see shared autonomous vehicles, also.”
Fiat seems happy. Spokesman Casey Hurbis said, “Getaround allows car owners to become micro-entrepreneurs, and at the same time gives drivers the opportunity to enjoy the Italian styling and performance of our vehicles.” That includes the electric 500e, though Scorpio admits that its peer-to-peer model hasn’t taken off for plug-in cars yet.
“The biggest challenge is making sure the car is charged up when the user picks it up,” she said. Some sharers, especially those with limited EV experience, have balked at 100-mile electrics such as the 500e. But a Tesla Model S that Getaround keeps at its San Francisco office is hugely popular, especially because it has the longer-range 85-kilowatt-hour battery.
Getaround is the lucky recipient of a San Francisco initiative that is making 1,500 on-street parking spaces available to it, City CarShare, and Zipcar. That means Getaround should have an opportunity to add charging to some of them, which would make a lot of sense in EV-friendly SF.
“We see the Fiat deal as the first of many partnerships to come,” said Scorpio. That may indeed be true, though automakers could view the deals with mixed emotions.