In recent years automakers have discovered that Millenials are not as interested in car ownership as previous generations. With car-loving Boomers and Gen-X'ers only getting older, the writing is on the wall.
In an attempt to boost sales, Ford is launching, in six urban areas, a rather strange take on car sharing. The idea is that Ford owners that are registered with Ford Motor Credit (the company's financing arm) will be able to rent their own cars out to strangers by the hour, all facilitated by an app and a car-share startup called Getaround. It's something like AirBNB for cars.
I call the plan strange for three reasons: First, because for the end user—and I mean the ultimate end user who is renting the car, not the penultimate end user who is allowing their car to be rented out—the program doesn't seem to offer any advantage over Zipcar, the dominant car sharing service. Thus Ford's offering seems to have a me-too air about it without offering any real innovation, or incentive to switch, to the ultimate end user.
Secondly, I question whether a car owner would be willing to rent their own car out to a stranger. Some of you will say that if folks are willing to rent their apartments out to strangers on AirBNB, why not? Because during the normal course of operation, cars are subjected to more immediate wear-and-tear both inside and out and, of course, potentially catastrophic accidents. AirBNB has weathered their share of anomalous horror stories, but I think that in today's litigious society, it will take just one well-publicized DUI-related fatality before car owners re-think handing their keys away.
Thirdly, I always assumed that folks in urban areas who needed a car but couldn't afford one would sign up with, again, ZipCar. If the Ford renters are to match their rates, the hourly profit for Ford owners sharing their cars would not seem to add up to a significant amount.
Lastly, you should take my opinion with a grain of salt; you're talking to a guy who was confident the first iPod Mini would be a flop. (It was a tremendous sales success, for those of you that can remember back that far.)
I'm most curious to hear from the car owners among you, as I sold mine long ago and am no longer in your tribe. Whether or not you have a Ford, would you be willing to rent your car out on an hourly basis to strangers, for rates roughly competitive ($12 to $15 per hour) to Zipcar's?
Also, fellow Zipcar users: Are the cars you get clean? Here in NYC, I'd say four out of five times I use a Zipcar, they're reasonably clean. But one out of five times I find at least one of the following:
- Garbage (candy bar wrappers, empty coffee cups, half-drank water bottles, etc.) - Food crumbs or food stains on seat or dashboard - Strong cologne or perfume smell - Cigarette ashes - The plastic clips drilled into the dashboard to hold the external audio cable have been forcibly ripped out, and the cable is missing - Sticky or oily buttons, controls or steering wheel
Is it just New York, or have you found this in your Zipcar city as well?