The Truth About Cars » car sharing The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 13:40:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » car sharing AlixPartners: 2014 May Be The Peak Of U.S. Auto Sales Thu, 10 Jul 2014 10:00:59 +0000 Toyota Sales Lot

The good news? Automakers are enjoying a sales boom in the United States the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Great Recession brought the hammer down, with June 2014 sales alone surpassing those in July of 2006. Should the boom continue, 2014 will close as the industry’s best year in a long time, with over 16 million vehicles sold when the calendar ticks over to 2015.

The bad news? This year may be the last year U.S. sales ever climb this high.

Autoblog reports a study by AlixPartners suggests sales will peak later this year, then head back down the mountain on the beaten path of rising interest rates — diminishing purchasing power in the process — then veer toward the long trail built upon the Millennials’ alleged preference of Uber and Car2Go over individual ownership.

In the near-term, director Dan Hearsch warns the lines of cheap credit today will dry up over the next two to three years:

The biggest factor would be this credit bubble, and without making an exact projection of when that will happen, that, to use is the window when you’ll see an impact on car sales. The other side of it is cyclical and predictable. … We’re a little more pessimistic because of these other factors.

Further up the path, rising fuel prices will temporarily give hybrids and EVs a boost in sales, but improvements in the ICE and the ongoing issues with EVs — range, higher upfront costs and production of battery packs — will mitigate whatever gains are made unless the technology comes into parity with the ICE.

Finally, AlixPartners expects 80 percent of all vehicles sold in North America by 2017 will be connected vehicles, and advises governments and OEMs to prepare for the day autonomous vehicles take their first outings beyond Google’s research facility, as such vehicles will be key to future sales.

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Hammer Time: Screw Zipcar, Just Share A Govcar Wed, 18 Jun 2014 11:00:08 +0000 govcar

There a few things I can’t wrap my mind around these days.

Take for example, Zipcar.  The car sharing firm that supposedly offers the Millenial vibe, is actually run by the old GM dumping ground for unpopular vehicles established rental company Avis.

That’s not a bad thing at all. Long story short, the opportunity for Zipcar to buy and manage vehicles at Avis procurement levels makes what was once a pipe dream, financially realistic. Avis gets to expand their fleet with minimal overhead costs (the two companies share the same vehicle fleet), and Zipcar gets to focus on expanding the idea of car sharing.

The problem for me is that the economics of car sharing under a corporate umbrella is still a bad idea for 99% of the folks out there.

You live in a university? Car sharing may make sense, but not when you deal with the strict asterisks and time-related gotchas that come with the corporate version of it.

There are times when you may want to go shopping, or to the movies, or to your favorite pharmacological distributor. Zipcar allows you to do that for about $10 an hour, plus an annual membership fee of about $15. If you are a student who doesn’t have the right to purchase a parking pass at your school, Zipcar gives you the sole out from those crowded university shuttles and long bike rides.


I’ll be blunt, Zipcar only works if you are denied a marketplace substitute, almost never drive, or once owned a rolling lemon money pit.

It’s also not a bad deal if you drive exactly twenty minutes, shop for exactly twenty minutes, and come back to where you live in 19 minutes and 59 seconds. Four students can gleefully share the ten dollar cost and a new deep seeded hatred for stop lights, slow drivers, and parking lots.


You can enjoy the infinite convenience of buying and sharing a car that you own.

You could have this. A 2009 Ford Crown Victoria.

The type of car that sparks fear in the eyes of a meandering motorist with just a few antennas on the roof, and a quick flashing of the headlights.

The price for a used one is still well short of $2500 with good mileage. Why so cheap? Because nothing is more unfashionable these days as a well-made, V8, rear-wheel drive car, bathed in government black and white, and incapable of getting more than 15 miles per gallon in the city.

Yet the economics of sharing this age old gas house, Animal House style, makes far more sense than supplementing the blogging income of cultural creatives and multi-national firms that see you as an easy target for their ecological phoniness.

That’s what ride sharing is about. They want your money. That’s it. If they cared a lick about you, the companies that foolishly overpaid acquired these operations wouldn’t have spent their resources de-contenting rental cars and removing important safety features that may impact your well-being should that terrible day come.

So, let’s say you decide that you want to own a car, but want to get some car sharing levels of help paying for it.

It’s not that hard if you are willing to hustle a bit. Yes there is Uber, and Lyft, and a few other firms that let you become the designated driver of the local university (invest in rubber floormats and keep the cop car). However, there are an awful lot of better ways to skin that cat.

So let’s say you decide to buy this car.

Definitely click on the link, because it’s not what you would expect. A 2004 Ford Taurus SE Wagon. Stop drooling.

Yes, this car is about as hip as a 35 year old frat boy. But that’s part of my point. It has 65,000 original miles. One owner, that being a local government, and all the maintenance has been done at the dealership according to the Carfax history.

New spark plugs. New tires. New starter. For $1175 plus a new battery and the bogus buyer premium, you’re still looking at less than $1500 out the door.

The price is right, and the hipness level is perfect as well. Why? Because you want to attract the types of people who are looking at the “transportation” end of the deal. People who are capable of doing math better than the average American.  In colleges and universities, these are usually grad students from overseas who have limited funds and a desire to travel. In the suburbs, or in your 20′s, it’s the young family that is trying to get established on one income. When you get to be in your 30′s and older, it will likely be the neighborhood where older folks and younger folks are already on good terms with each other.

You can have them all pay for part of the vehicle. Car insurance follows the car, not the driver, and that should be reimbursed as well along with a monthly charge for auto expenses. It is not against the law to allow a friend or relative drive your car under the permissive use policy. But, make extra sure that you are allowed to do this.  Every insurance company, and many states, have varying levels of coverage and liability when it comes to permissive use. This article is a good primer on it,

Even with that said, you always want to contact your insurance company. I have done this, twice, and both times, I contacted my insurance company to make sure that everything was kosher. This isn’t a big hurdle to climb, but some states simply say yes or no to the idea of permissive use.

The whole idea about making car sharing work is nothing new. It’s older than a Bluto Blutarski belch and as utilitarian as an old government mule. If you put even a minimal level of energy towards it, you won’t need a corporation to make it work.

Do you need faith in your fellow man? Meh. But if you pick your fellow man wisely, and don’t over-invest in the asset, you should be OK for years. A cheap government car that has been maintained right can offer a value proposition that is far better for most infrequent users than the ticking two-way time bomb that is trying to shop around town with a Zipcar.



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Car2Go Vacates UK Market Due To Tradition Of Private Ownership Fri, 30 May 2014 11:00:24 +0000 Car2Go London

Car-sharing service Car2Go, whose ubiquitous blue-and-white Smart Fourtwos can be seen parked on the streets of many a major city, will leave the United Kingdom market today.

Autoblog Green reports the Daimler-owned service is vacating its presence in London and Birmingham in the face of “the UK’s strong culture and tradition of private vehicle ownership.” While total membership is over 750,000 around the world, the U.K. campaign — which began in the autumn of 2012 — never climbed over 10,000 members between the two cities.

That said, Car2Go will still monitor changes in the market in the hopes a return will someday be possible. In the meantime, U.K. members who are registered with Daimler’s moovel app and possess a valid license will be able to drive the two-tone Smarts from IKEA to Starbucks in 12 cities over in the mainland.

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Can Car Sharing Work In Suburbia? Sat, 05 Apr 2014 13:00:08 +0000 car-share-parking-photo111

20 lawnmowers.

20 internet connections

20 videos of The Lion King.

Oh, and 60+ vehicles on one street.

I recently delved deep into one of the more challenging ideas of the modern age: car sharing in suburbia. It’s an idea that many non-enthusiasts and city dwellers love. But is it a good idea for suburbanites and the rest of us?


If we’re talking about the traditional form of commercialized car sharing, such as Zipcar and RelayRides, then the answers for right now are,= “No! Nein! Nyet!”.

Most of these services cost anywhere from $30 To $100 a day, and at least $10 an hour. For most folks who have to take their vehicles to the supermarkets, restaurants, friend’s houses and all the other places that make up the modern day ‘to-do’ list of suburban life, these services are just not economically viable.

The financial equation can be even worse for rural folk, and for auto enthusiasts in particular who happen to live in suburbia. The thought of giving up our rolling treasures to the pirates of bad driving is a big-time no-no nadir.

But that doesn’t mean car sharing can’t work if you have the right long-term relationships in place, and the right types of vehicles that complement each other for occasional use. Let me offer a real world example.c4


My neighbors who live diagonally from me have a small truck: a 1996 Toyota Tacoma with over 250k. They are retirees, and most of their daily transportation involves no more than one or two people. When they have visitors, they also have a 10 year old Cadillac Seville.

However, that Caddy just doesn’t offer enough seats for grandkids, parents and gransparents. Nor do the midsized cars that arrive on their driveway.

So what do they do?


Well, I just happen to have a 2003 Chrysler Town & Country minivan these days. Seven seats. Dual sliding doors, and about 125,000 miles.  I have known my neighbors for a very long time, and we have both seen how we drive and maintain our vehicles. At the same time, even though I’m a car dealer, I can’t keep small trucks on my car lot. They are expensive to buy these days at the auctions, and the rare affordable one tends to sell quickly once it’s front-line ready.

As for minivans? They have become the modern day unsellable car in my world. So whenever he has a need for a minivan, which is about once every couple of months, I give him the keys to my ride. And whenever I need to move a lawnmower, a refrigerator, or just recently, a $20 bench press and weight set from the world famous Blue Chicken Auction, I borrow his small truck.


We’re not the only folks who do this in my neck of the woods. The neighbors who live down the street from me have a full-sized van with plenty of towing capacity for their irrigation business. They also have a trailer for their equipment and a tow dolly. What they don’t have is space to house everything without parking on the street and encouraging the local code enforcement dimwits to get on their case.

So I offer them free storage at the back of one of my shops, use the tow dolly or trailer if there is ever a need, and the local suburban Gestapo has one less target for their punitive fines and harassment.

The van, trailer and dolly are also used in that rare event when a neighbor needs to move a riding lawnmower, or when a car is laid down on the side of the road. We get the keys and move the heavy things to wherever they need to go. No need for AAA or a U-haul.


The goal of this light version of car sharing isn’t to share one vehicle 100% of the time. It is to satisfy that occasional 1% need. So that you don’t wind up wasting money on a one-size-fits-all, high-cost vehicle.


Is this a better idea for suburbanites? The article here summarizes a lot of the benefits and pitfalls. But as the old acronym goes, YMMV.

So what do you think? Can car sharing work in suburbia…and would you be willing to do it?

Note: You can reach Steve Lang directly at


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Enterprise Rent-A-Car Buys Canadian Car Sharing Service Fri, 28 Mar 2014 22:13:10 +0000 autoshare_kevin__868561gm-a

Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s Canadian subsidiary is buying AutoShare, a Toronto-based car sharing company that has established itself as a successful competitor to Zipcar.

While terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, it follows last year’s takeover of ZipCar by Avis Budget Group. For now, AutoShare will be managed from Toronto, and operate under the AutoShare brand. According to The Globe and MailAutoShare started in 1998, and has now grown to 12,000 members, with its membership focused in Toronto alone.

But with the backing of Enterprise, that could change. With high gas prices, a largely urban population centered in dense downtown areas and a culture more receptive to eco-friendly measures like public transit, Canada is a country that would be willing to embrace car sharing services. Don’t be surprised if AutoShare starts expanding – and a move south of the 49th parallel could be in the cards as well.


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Analysts: Peak Car To Arrive By 2020s Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:56 +0000 Ferrari 550 Pininfarina Barchetta

After a century of motoring, and with several factors rapidly changing the landscape, analysts are forecasting the peak of global automotive growth to come sometime in the 2020s.

The Detroit News reports that as more people join the exodus out of suburbia into major cities, along with other factors such as pollution, gridlock, build quality and the adoption of alternative modes of transportation — particularly among younger generations who cannot afford a car of their own — auto sales around the globe will peak somewhere around 100 million in the next decade, according to several analysts such as IHS Automotive.

Further, 44 percent of Americans surveyed by Intel said they would prefer to live in big cities with driverless cars able to keep traffic flowing smoothly, while one out of 10 households have no car at all.

The coming upheaval is prompting automakers to consider their place in the new scene, where red barchetta owners outrun silver bubble cars, and where car ownership gives way to car sharing. Tim Ryan, vice chairman of markets and strategy for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, puts the future of motoring into perspective:

The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility? If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

With an expected 25 percent to 50 percent increase urban dwelling over the next decade, and 9 billion expected to live in urban areas 25 years from now, the groundwork is being prepared to meet this coming challenge. Gartner Inc. auto analyst Thilo Koslowski predicts urbanites to use ride- and car-sharing services such as Lyft and Car2Go to commute to their destination, with autonomous cars picking up their passengers, and using GPS and other communication technologies to deliver them safely.

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AlixPartners Study: Every Car Shared Means 32 Lost Sales Wed, 05 Feb 2014 11:00:12 +0000 enterprisecarshare

According to a report from consulting firm AlixPartners, each and every car in the Zipcar or car2go car-sharing fleets means 32 lost vehicle sales. Based on a survey of 2,000 adults in 10 major cities who use car-sharing services, the report says that Americans would have bought an additional half million new or used cars and light trucks since 2006 if they did not have access to those services. That figure is expected to grow to 1.2 million by the end of the decade.

The report expects that the number of drivers using car-sharing services will grow from less than 1 million today to 4 million by 2020.

For every car in its fleet, the average car-sharing service has about 66 members, a number that will grow to 81/car by 2020. Almost half of regular users end up not buying a car, the report said.

The study looked at car-sharing in: Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, San Diego, Boston, Portland, Ore.; and Austin, Texas. Car-sharing is expanding, but that growth is currently limited to affluent, urban areas near universities. Should the autonomous car become a reality, though, it could spur dramatic growth in car-sharing.


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Review: car2go Smart Wed, 08 Jan 2014 13:03:58 +0000 2

There’s a new car sharing program in Columbus, Ohio called car2go (not capitalized). For $0.38/minute, smart cars are available for rent – fuel and insurance are included. They can be driven anywhere, but they have to be returned to a public parking space within the designated “home area”. The Columbus home area is essentially downtown, the immediately adjacent suburbs, and the Ohio State University campus. I am fortunate enough to live in the home area and for the past several weeks I have been tempted by a car-nu-co-pia of car2gos (cars2go?) smart cars parked everywhere.

Admittedly, I am not the target market for car2go, mostly because I have a functional car that I like and drive on a daily basis. This does not mean I was not curious about the service. Also, I really wanted to drive a smart car, if only to see if my opinions about them were right. I have a sort of personal issue with the little beasts. Anytime I see one, I yell, “Dumb car!”

Even when I’m by myself. But I always think it’s funny so it’s fine. My issues with them are pretty standard and commonly known: they’re too slow, too expensive, and they are not fuel efficient enough for their tiny size. They’re good for urban areas where parking is an issue, but parking is plentiful in Columbus. I rarely have problems finding some where to park even though my car spends a good amount of time at meters.
The car2go service isn’t set up for impulsive smart car driving; I had to sign-up on the website, they ran my driver’s license, and sent me a member card in the mail. It took about a week. The card is linked to my debit card and when minutes are used, I get charged. Because the service is new in Columbus, the $35.00 sign-up fee was waived and I got thirty free fun-filled minutes to explore all my smart fantasies.
The car2go phone app allowed me to find a car within walking distance. I had seen one parked in the same spot on the street for two days, so finding one wasn’t a problem. The smart car was locked with the key inside. There was a box on the windshield where I scanned my card and it unlocked the doors. Once inside the car, I had to verify that the inside and outside were acceptable and free of damage via a waiver on the screen for the navigation system. After that, I was free to drive a smart car to my heart’s content (which turned out to be about forty-five minutes).

The smart car that I drove was a 2013 with 297 miles on it. There wasn’t a lot whole going on in the inside. There were two seats, a steering wheel, heating/air conditioning knobs, a gear shift, and the navigation screen (with a radio!). No CD player or auxiliary jack. The cargo area behind the seats will hold things. Providing the things are small and of limited quantity. The only spot of any sort of personality was that the ignition was under the gear shift on the center console. For a split second I was able to pretend that I was in a Saab. Fancy.

I expected to feel unsafe in the smart car – a stupid moving target for big trucks and SUVs. However, it had a high enough seating position that I didn’t feel like I was in a small ridiculously tiny car until I looked back and realized that I could touch the hatchback glass. The gas and the brake were either a zero or a 100% proposition, with nothing in between. If I wanted to change velocity, I had to really want it. The brakes were sponge, sponge and STOP, like the car ran in to an imaginary brick wall. Flooring the gas created angry noise and marginal results (It was at this time when I had the sudden realization that slow and loud = bad and that loud and fast = good). The automatic transmission was the worst part. Shift times could be counted in Mississippis. There was a ‘sport’ shift on it and it was, like many sport shifts on non-sporty cars, completely pointless.

A smart car weighs 1600 pounds and has a three cylinder engine that cranks out 70 horsepower. It isn’t enough. Nominally, the smart has a listed top speed of 90 MPH. I tried taking it on the freeway to see if I could get it up to the top speed but I got bored by the time that it got up in to the mid-70s, so I gave up. I will assume that the top speed is possible if given a straightaway of similar length to that of the airstrip at the end of Fast and Furious 6. When I stopped and got out after the land speed record breaking non-attempt there was a distinctive burning plastic smell.
I’ve spent some time thinking about car2go and if it will be successful in my area. There are 250 smart cars in the Columbus car2go fleet and I can see them being popular with Ohio State students who are stuck on campus and need to leave the area to run errands. However, a quick drive through campus shows a shortage of car2go vehicles in that impulse-pickup zone. The quiet area of downtown, where I live, however, has car2go smart cars parked everywhere. From casual observation, I’ve noticed that smart cars seem to sit about 2-3 days between adventures. I’ve only seen one in motion. I’m tempted to say that I don’t think it’ll work in Columbus, but I’m usually wrong about stuff like this, so it will likely be a rousing success for that reason alone. In fact, I rather like the idea of car2go. I just hate the idea that they’re doing it with smart cars.

I’ve also spent time thinking about the smart car. It’s designed to be basic transportation. Which it is, so it succeeds. To try and compare it anything other than basic transportation isn’t fair. It wasn’t designed to be great; it’s function over form. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that anyone would want a car so devoid of personality simply because it’s easy to park. — even for thirty-eight cents a minute.

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Peer-to-peer car sharing services found lacking in substantial liability coverage Thu, 17 Oct 2013 11:00:45 +0000 Car2Go in Seattle

In cities where owning a car can be a pain (New York, Boston, Seattle), drivers are opting instead to share vehicles with other drivers, with companies such as ZipCar, Car2Go, RelayRides et al offering their services to help the public get around. All anyone needs beyond the basics is a subscription to the car-sharing service, a reservation, and a drop-off location when they are finished with their errands. Even big-name rental car companies like Enterprise and Hertz are jumping into the new business model for a test drive, Avis having gone the farthest by purchasing ZipCar in January of 2013.

However, the insurance offered by these peer-to-peer rental companies might not all that it’s cracked up to be, with severe consequences should anything remotely catastrophic occur.

Forbes illustrates the problem with the liability insurance offered to subscribers of car-sharing services: An accident that left one driver dead and four others injured in Boston back in early 2012 led to a lawsuit between the four survivors against the estate of the deceased driver, the car’s owner, and RelayRides; the case was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. With the exceptions of California, Oregon and Washington, automotive insurance polices have not caught up with this new industry, leading to most states offering only the barest of liability coverage, and to potential disasters such as the example given in the article.

Should you find yourself wanting to take part in peer-to-peer car sharing, in particular the kind involving renting out your own vehicle instead of one from an established car-sharing fleet (RelayRides is of the former, for example), Forbes recommends you take out supplemental coverage of $100,000 each for bodily injury and property damage, and $300,000 per accident, with high net-worth individuals taking out more to protect themselves and their assets. In fact, no matter what happens, you may end up needing to bulk up the inadequate coverage no matter the situation. Either that, or stick to the maxim “neither a lender nor a borrower be” when it comes to car sharing.

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The Worst Drivers Are In ZipCars Thu, 11 Apr 2013 16:41:53 +0000

I recently yelled at another driver. I know, I know: this is bad behavior. It’s even worse because I have a Range Rover, which makes you look like a total prick when you’re yelling at someone else on the road. Or, you could remove “when you’re yelling at someone else on the road” and that sentence would still be true.

The good news is that it’s exceptionally rare when I verbally assault someone else. The only other time I’ve done it was in Miami, where I was immediately pulled over by a police officer and cited for driving in a bike lane. I’m not sure how road rage turned into driving in a bike lane, but the officer didn’t seem keen to stand around discussing it. He did, however, rhetorically ask: “Is there an emergency, sir?” which is code for: “Are you a complete jackass, sir?”

The answer to only one of those questions is yes.

The worst part is that in both situations, the other driver was in a Chevy Uplander, which means I didn’t need to yell at them to make them feel bad. In fact, it probably only compounded the depression they were already experiencing by simply being behind the wheel.

In the most recent situation, however, I feel my anger was slightly justified. The Uplander that caught my scorn was a taxi that cut from the right turn lane to the left turn lane, stopping at an angle that blocked the through lane. Which leads me to my point: taxi drivers are absolutely awful.

Taxi Driver Woes

Of course, the poor quality of taxi drivers is already one of life’s universal truths, just like Westboro Baptist Church picketing things like the arrival of summer, or scientific studies that discover virtually every food item causes cancer, or Lincoln’s comeback, which – based on yesterday’s article – is very obvious to everyone, as long as they’re me. But just to be sure we’re all on the same page about taxi drivers, allow me to share some of my recent observations.

One: taxi drivers can, and do, stop wherever they wish. This includes two-lane roads, driveways, and interstate highways, unless they’re being hailed by a racial minority.

Two: taxis don’t have to be up to the same standards as the vehicles driven by the rest of us. This means that loose-fitting Wal-Mart hubcaps are far more common than working turn signals. Or seat belts.

Three: even though every single taxi driver has an ear-mounted Bluetooth device, they drive as if they’re composing haikus using a Palm Pilot with a stylus.

Indeed, we all agree that taxi drivers are awful. But I’ve recently identified one group that’s even worse: car sharers.

Car Sharing Woes

ZipCar is the largest car sharing company in the US. It’s located in all major US cities, and also Pittsburgh. And not one person who uses it can drive.

Basically, ZipCar works like this: you don’t own a car because you’re either a broke college student or one of the few Americans who actually uses public transit. (In other words: a liberal. Or someone who lives in the Northeast. In other words: a liberal.) But you recognize that you occasionally need a car to do things, like visit a friend’s house to watch Jon Stewart. So you pay a monthly fee for ZipCar, which gives you on-demand access to a fleet of cars parked all around your city. Then, you can “check out” a car, much like you’d “check out” a DVD from Netflix. (And you return it with just as many scratches.)

The primary reason ZipCar’s drivers are the worst is obvious: they don’t drive very often. Since they’re not behind the wheel more than once every few days, or every few weeks, they fall out of practice with things like checking blind spots, or stopping at stop signs, or stopping at all. Fortunately, ZipCar doesn’t have any Chevy Uplanders, so I probably won’t be provoked into any fits of rage.

But there are two more reasons ZipCar drivers are the worst. One is that ZipCar covers fuel. That’s right: this is a rental car company that pays for the gas. Like me, you’re probably thinking “drag strip.” Or maybe even “track day.” But the coolest thing ZipCar has is an automatic BMW 328i, presumably with damaged suspension and gouged tires. Still, even if you don’t go a track day, free gas means there’s absolutely no benefit to driving in any manner besides foot to the floor.

The craziest part, however, is that ZipCar also pays for insurance. There’s a small deductible, of course, but ZipCar carries the policy. In other words, ZipCar provides free insurance to occasional drivers in unfamiliar vehicles who are going as fast as possible because they get free gas.

This, ladies and gentlemen, makes them worse than taxi drivers. Even taxi drivers in Chevy Uplanders.

Doug DeMuro operates He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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Avis Budget Group Buys Zipcar For $500 Million Wed, 02 Jan 2013 12:29:25 +0000

Zipcar, the leading player in car sharing in North America, is about to be acquired by Avis Budget Group for $500 million in cash. The rental car firm will pay $12.25 per share, a whopping 49 percent premium relative to Zipcar’s closing price on December 31st.

Rivals like Hertz and Car2Go, a Daimler-backed car sharing service are slowly expanding into urban areas in the United States and Canada, looking to establish a presence in markets where Zipcar is already an established player. Zipcar is on the verge of 1 million subscribers in North America, and rolled out innovative new services, like a by-the-hour cargo van service. The firm’s financials are starting to even out as well, after years of less-than-solid profitability. From a mobility standpoint, car sharing has a lot to gain given Generation Y’s apprehensive attitude regarding car ownership. In my hometown, Zipcar is a popular alternative for young people who still need a car for trips to Ikea or the grocery store but are unwilling – or more often unable – to deal with the annoyances of parking, insurance and fuel prices in a city that is increasingly hostile to motorists.

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The Worst New Car I’ve Driven So Far Fri, 20 Apr 2012 17:21:21 +0000

Being asked “what car should I buy?” occurs on a weekly basis for me, but I’d rather field that question every day than listen to the recieved wisdom of a magazine racer just once more in my life. The most recent inquiry came from my Uncle Maurice, a kind and generous man who provided my brother and me with a near bottomless supply of Swiss Army knives when we were children.

Maurice owns the second worst car I’ve ever driven, a 2005 Buick Century. The Century is a relic of the bad years of GM when everybody was utterly indifferent to making a a quality vehicle. This example may be the best Buick Century ever; Maurice’s father-in-law was the previous owner and kept it in immaculate condition. Unfortunately, it drives like a stereotypical Buick, and the 3.1L V6 is somehow underpowered and horribly thirsty. Maurice recently emailed me, saying that he want to replace the Century with an American sedan that has a peerless ride, spacious rear seating and an easy ingress/egress for my Aunt. Naturally, I refereed him to Sajeev, who suggested a nearly-new Town Car Signature L. Needless to say, I cannot wait to head down to Florida this year and waft down the streets of Miami, while the bass-heavy music of Rick Ross rattles the Kleenex boxes and adjustable-back baseball hats mounted on the parcel shelf.

Which brings me to the worst vehicle I’ve ever driven; a 2011 Nissan Sentra. The Sentra belonged to Zipcar, a car sharing service that I have a membership with (paid for myself, not comped, if any integrity-minders want to know). I was stuck without a car recently and had to make a doctor’s appointment. With construction on the main areterial road, the already infrequent bus service would be even slower, and I didn’t feel like being crammed in with the other rides in that state. I fired up my Zipcar membership and got the cheapest car that was located within walking distance. At $9 per hour, it was a no brainer compared to the $13.50 per hour Mini Cooper they also had.

I’d used the Mini before, when it was winter time, the roads were freshly salted, and I didn’t want to drive my pristine, rust-free Miata. The Mini was an absolute hoot to drive, despite being low on power, and the lessons I learned at Tim O’Neil’s rally school could be put to work. The Sentra, on the other hand, was an utterly dismal drive.

With 21,000 miles on it, the Sentra didn’t feel rough or abused. It just wasn’t a good car. Any life that the QR20DE 2.0L4-cylinder had was immediately sapped by the poky CVT gearbox. The CVT, to its credit, didn’t display the typical “motorboat” behavior, and was good at keeping the revs suitably low around town – but that’s about it. Turns taken at moderate speed exhibited massive body roll, and the comically high driving position made me feel like I was sitting on a piece of playground apparatus.

At $18,878 plus $1,300 for the optional CVT gearbox, the Sentra is hardly the cheapest compact out there, not the most generously equipped. The $20,178 sticker also included $135 for the “Blueberry” paint, which was actually an attractive shade of Navy. There are so many good choices in all segments of the used car market that’s it’s pretty hard to buy a bad car, unless you really look hard. This is one of those instances. If you want something fun to drive, there’s the Ford Focus and the Mazda3. If you want something Korean that looks upscale, the Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra are there for you, while the Kia Rio does a great imitation of a SEAT Ibiza from 5 years ago. All-wheel drive? The Subaru Impreza. Basic transportation? The Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta and Toyota Corolla are all vying for your money. Even Alex Dykes would recommend the Versa, the cheapest new car on sale today, over the Sentra.

Yes, I know these cars have their flaws, like exploding automatic gearboxes on the Focus. My point is that the quality differential between modern cars has largely disappeared to the point where differences in product are incremental and quality is largely equal (at the expense of character, which is a whole other discussion).  But every now and then, you find something that is unreservedly at the back of the pack, hopelessly out of date and a reminder that while modern cars may be considered dull and uniform, they have come so far in just a few short years.

And on that note, I leave you with a classic bit from Louis C.K. that explains it better than I ever could.

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Rent Out Your Car Via Onstar Wed, 05 Oct 2011 23:21:10 +0000

Onstar may have been pressured by privacy activists into dropping changes to its terms of service, but the telematics service is still betting that people want to be more connected than ever. So much so that it’s going offer a service allowing you to rent your car out to strangers.

A GM press release explains

RelayRides allows vehicle owners to choose to rent out their idle vehicles, with the owner controlling the rates and availability of the car. RelayRides provides an online marketplace and a $1 million insurance policy to make the transaction safe and convenient.

Through innovative technology integration, RelayRides will leverage OnStar to allow RelayRides borrowers to unlock GM cars with their mobile phones. For vehicles that are not OnStar enabled, RelayRides must install a small device in the car to provide convenient access to borrowers. The integration makes all eligible OnStar vehicles immediately “RelayRides ready” without having to install additional hardware…

RelayRides will leverage OnStar technology through a mobile application to allow customers to check for available vehicles, make a online reservation online as well as check future reservations, locate their reserved vehicle via GPS and lock and unlock the vehicle, all through their smart phone.

And GM isn’t just mating its Onstar technology to the “peer-to-peer” car sharing program (which is still only available in San Francisco and Boston), its VC arm GM Ventures “is in advanced discussions with RelayRides about an investment in the company as part of GM’s overall commitment to addressing urban mobility issues.” Car sharing programs have become a big trend in the automotive industry, with Daimler, BMW, Toyota and others jumping on the bandwagon in some form or other. But as might be expected from the company that brought us the Volt, rather than surf the trend, GM is going one step further by leading the industry into the peer-to-peer rental space. And as with all of these investments, it’s tough to see how this makes sense in the long term. In the short term though, at least this might “get butts into seats,” something GM execs say is the key to overcoming what they call “outdated perceptions” of GM products.

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2 BR, LDR, EIK, Your Choice Of Prius Plug-in Hybrid, Or iQ EV Mon, 13 Jun 2011 08:18:49 +0000

In the market to buy a condo in Tokyo? If you buy the right one, it will come with a car. Starting in spring 2012, Toyota plans to launch a condominium-based car-sharing program in collaboration with Japanese real estate developers.

As a start, a condominium building in Meguro, Tokyo, one in Suginami, also in Tokyo, and one in Aichi will each receive a couple of  the Prius Plug-in Hybrids and the iQ EVs.  Both cars are scheduled for a 2012 launch. The cars will be managed  by nearby Toyota vehicle rental and lease companies. Toyota sees this as a test to “investigate further methods to promote EV-use based on the results of this program.”

Says Toyota: “Car sharing has become more popular among people in urban areas who do not own cars, and it is also gaining public attention as a countermeasure against global warming and oil dependency.”  Also, owning and especially parking can be a major hassle in Japan’s inner cities.

Also according to Toyota, the upcoming Prius Plug-in Hybrid has an electric-only driving range of 23.4 km (14.5 miles) before the gasoline engine powers the generator. The iQ-based EV is said to have a range of 105 km (66 miles).

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Are You Ready For: Peer-To-Peer Car Rentals? Wed, 08 Jun 2011 15:41:35 +0000

With car sharing on the rise, my home state of Oregon is moving towards changing insurance rules to allow private “peer to peer” rentals by auto owners. The Oregonian reports that HB 3149 is headed for the Governor’s desk, having been approved by the state House and Senate. Sponsor Rep Ben Cannon explains

Most insurance policies prohibit people from using their cars for commercial purposes. This bill says someone can participate in car sharing without having to worry that their insurance will be canceled.

California is the only other state to have passed such legislation, and already Facebook-based peer-to-peer car rental firms like Getaround have popped up to fill the demand. With average car ownership costs reaching $8,000 per year according to the AAA, Cannon argues that research showing that cars sit parked for 90% of their lives proves the need for more car-sharing flexibility. And established car-sharing firms like Zipcar, which operate their own fleets don’t feel threatened by the bill, as they are not expanding beyond urban cores and as Zipcar’s CEO puts it, peer-to-peer rentals validate the car-sharing model. But would you rent your car to a stranger?

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Not Buying A Car Looks Better By The Minute Thu, 16 Dec 2010 09:22:25 +0000

Forget two or three year leases. Daimler will rent you cars by the minute and “is stealing customers from Mazda and Fiat with rentals aimed at drivers ready to forgo auto ownership,” reports Businessweek.

Emboldened by the successes of Zipcar and other short term rental or car sharing ventures, Daimler is test marketing its Car2go service Austin, TX, and Ulm, Germany. Soon to follow: Hamburg, Germany, in early in 2011, and dozens more cities in Europe and North America. Car2go rents Smart cars by the minute. Other carmakers, such as BMW and PSA want to develop similar services.

What makes Car2go different is that you can pick up the car and leave it anywhere within the city’s operating area. GPS tells the central computer where it is. Car2go members pay a one-time registration fee for an access card to rent a car located wherever the last customer parked.

A Frost & Sullivan study sees a shift in people in their 20s and 30s, who see car ownership as a financial drag with little status upside. Car sharing is attractive to younger drivers who grew up with monthly cell-phone bills and other pay-as-you-go services.  Add to that the lack and cost of parking in crowded city centers, and you’ve got yourself a nice business. Or a huge problem.

If that concept ever goes mainstream, then carmakers are in big trouble. A car-sharing fleet of 150,000 to 200,000 cars could eventually replace about 1 million consumer-owned vehicles, the Frost & Sullivan study figures. Carmakers face the choice of either catching that trend early or getting gobbled up by it if they snooze.

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