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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Car2go Brings First All-Electric Car-Sharing Service To The U.S.

BY Ariel Schwartz

Get ready for the newest way to grab some wheels when you need them. The service, launching in November in San Diego, is gunning for Zipcar by making it easier to pay for and drop off your borrowed car.

Smart electric Fortwo
Zipcar has long dominated the city car-sharing space. But Car2go, a program from Daimler AG that allows users to rent Smart cars by the minute, recently popped up in Austin, Texas to challenge the larger company's dominance. Now Car2go is set to gain even more attention as it launches the country's first large-scale electric car-sharing program in San Diego.

It makes sense on a number of levels to start an all-electric service in San Diego, explains Car2go CEO Nicholas Cole. "It's a bit of a tech hub, and one of the great things is that ECOtality and the EV Project are in the process of installing 1,000 charging stations in the city by the end of the fourth quarter in 2011. Car2go will have direct access."

Car2go's model is simpler than competitors like Zipcar. Whereas Zipcar requires members to pick up and return cars from the same location, make reservations to rent vehicles in advance, and pay by the hour, Car2go members can rent vehicles by the minute without reservations--and drop off the vehicles at designated points throughout the city.

If members in the San Diego program discover that their electric vehicle has a low charge, they will be asked to drop it off at a charge station. Car2go will also have a third-party maintenance fleet to move the vehicles to charge points at the end of the day so that they can juice up overnight.

Cole is confident that members won't run out of charge on their journeys. "We took a hard look at our current model from a use standpoint in Austin. We see the average trip is less than five miles for our members, and the Smart Fortwo is rated at 84 miles per charge," he says. "We're confident that we'll be able to shift that charging burden to evenings." Members will also be able to see how much charge each vehicle has using the Car2go website and iPhone app. That way, users can opt to take fully charged vehicles if they know they will be taking longer trips.

The San Diego program, which will feature 300 electric Smart Fortwo vehicles when it launches in November, is Car2go's second announced all-electric fleet--the company is also launching an electric car-sharing service in Amsterdam later this year. The company's other programs in Hamburg, Germany, and Austin use gasoline-powered cars.

Car2go doesn't have any plans to expand the all-electric car-sharing model to other U.S. cities--yet. "Our expansion focus is on identifying markets for combustion engines," says Cole. "But if a city determines the investment [in an EV infrastructure] is worthwhile, that could change over the coming months."
[Image: Daimler]