In a recent blog post I talked about the experience of trying to find and buy a car – having moved from central London (where I lived 30 secs from a trainline) to Greater London suburbia last year.
After hitting a few sticking points regarding the location of car dealerships and the ease and convenience (or lack of it) in terms of organising a test drive, I thought I’d take a step back and think about my needs as a prospective car buyer and consider if there were any other options – car brands and dealerships aside – that would satisfy them.
As someone who has always had to rely on public transport, one of my key needs is the freedom to be able to travel where I want, when I want – to have a vehicle on tap whenever I need it. As a home owner with rooms to decorate, my car needs to fit in flatpack furniture – previously, popping to IKEA would mean trying to carry a chest of drawers on a bus, or shelling out for a taxi. I also want the process of getting access to a car to be easy (one of the key trends from Table19’s 2017 trends report); no complicated processes, tiresome negotiations, or hidden costs for me please.
Affordability is another factor. Car insurance, petrol, and maintenance all add up. Then there’s value for money. Do I really want to buy a new car, when as soon as I drive it off the forecourt I’d potentially lose thousands in depreciation?
So, who might be able to help me? Well, funnily enough it seems that there is a whole sector that has been created specifically to satisfy needs such as mine: car sharing.
Zipcar, Enterprise Car Club, DriveNow, EasyCar Club are just a few of the brands that have prospered by offering an alternative to car ownership. They’re all run on a similar premise: a monthly membership fee (equating to around £100 a year) enables you to hire cars by the hour or day (at the tap of a smartphone screen), and vehicles are picked up from designated spots to which they must be returned at the end of the rental period.
That said, Zipcar also offers a ‘Zipcar Flex’ service enabling you to hire cars for one-way journeys – thus negating the need to return a car to its original parking spot. And EasyCar Club is different in that offers the chance to ‘rent local cars from real people’ and its website features pictures of owners standing in front of their vehicles, such as Stacey and her 2009 Kia Picanto or Rosemarie and her 2014 Volvo V40.
On the surface signing up to a car sharing club ticks a lot of my boxes. Freedom. Affordability. Value for money. Easy (with EasyCar Club and Zipcar you can upload your driving licence by simply taking a picture of it and you’re good to go a few hours after that). And EasyCar Club also updates you when a new car becomes available to hire in your area.
No wonder then that the car sharing club seems to be going from strength to strength – DriveNow has just signed up its millionth customer and EasyCar Club doubled its customer base in 2017. All of which might be a contributing factor to the recent news that, despite the best efforts of the car makers, fewer and fewer of us are buying new cars. Petrol car sales in 2017 were down 5.6% from 2016, while diesel sales fell 17%.
The rise of the “sharing economy” has prompted the emergence of other innovative options, such as the car-pooling service BlaBlaCar. Those looking for a ride to a certain place at a certain time put their request into the site and are presented with a choice of lifts from people going in that direction in return for a set fee – with London to Manchester, for example, coming in at around £14.
This got me thinking about where the concept of car sharing might go next…
John Zimmer, co-founder of the ride-hailing app Lyft, feels that the next step for car sharing will be hailing autonomous vehicles, transforming transportation into the ultimate subscription service. He feels this will be more flexible than owning a car, whilst still giving you access to all the transportation you need. “Don’t drive very often? Use a pay-as-you-go plan for a few cents every mile you ride. Take a road trip every weekend? Buy the unlimited mileage plan. Going out every Saturday? Get the premium package with upgraded vehicles”.
It’s a vision of the future shared by Morgan Stanley, which has predicted that ride-hailing will grow from 4 per cent of journeys travelled today, up to 25 per cent by 2030.
It seems that some brands aren’t waiting around though.
Volkswagen will be introducing 200 MOIA minibuses to Hamburg, Germany in 2018. Customers hail the vehicles via an app (like Uber, Grab, Ola, Careem, or Didi Chuxing), while algorithms plan the optimum route and drop-offs between the passengers sharing. Each six-seater MOIA minibus is entirely electric, and offers high-speed internet access and USB chargers.
Closer to home, the challenge of getting around London in a self-driver has been taken up by the Swedish car makers at Volvo, who are going to be testing autonomous cars on London’s roads from the beginning of next year, and aim to have 100 such cars in the city by 2018. Volvo’s scheme, known as Drive Me London, will use data gathered from semi-autonomous vehicles used by “real families” on a trial basis to better inform and improve the technology.
So, where does all that leave me? Do I need to own a car?
Well, although car sharing does tick a lot of my needs, part of me still feels that I want to have my own car; something that I can walk out my front door and drive away (as opposed to tracking one down on an app). And I like the idea of having my own ‘new car’ that no-one else has driven. A key stumbling block though is affordability and ease.
After a bit of further research, I may have found the answer.
Volvo is launching a new SUV next year (the XC40) that not only comes packed with plenty of high-tech features but also offers a new and innovative way of buying it.
Alongside the new car, Volvo has unveiled a new Care By Volvo subscription service. The service consolidates everything associated with owning the car into a single monthly payment. “This will make having a car as transparent, easy and hassle free as having a phone,” Volvo said in a press release.
The fees for the Care By Volvo plan will be pre-set (i.e. no haggling with a salespeople required). And the program comes with a big bonus: with the plan, you’ll be able to get a new car every two years.
Now that sounds pretty Remarkable to me.
– Seb Weston, Planning Director