Ger­many show­cases its con­ve­nient, af­ford­able, green car-shar­ing sys­tem


Car-shar­ing, pi­o­neered in Switzer­land in the 1970s, is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity across the globe as peo­ple shy away from the cost of own­ing and main­tain­ing an au­to­mo­bile in big cities.

And it is prov­ing par­tic­u­larly suc­cess­ful in Ger­many, where car­mak­ers them­selves are keen to get a slice of the ac­tion.

In ad­di­tion to con­cerns about green­house gases and pol­lu­tion, there are many rea­sons why a grow­ing num­ber of ur­ban dwellers are opt­ing not to buy their own car: a chronic short­age of park­ing space, soar­ing in­sur­ance and up­keep costs, and high fuel prices.

Many pre­fer to use the well de­vel­oped and ef­fi­cient public trans­port sys­tems found in Ger­many and other coun­tries.

“In towns and cities, young peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to have a car,” said Ste­fan Bratzel, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Automotive Man­age­ment (CAM) in Ber­gis­chGlad­bach.

They still want the con­ve­nience of a car, with­out the fi­nan­cial bur­den of own­ing one. Yet they do not want to have to use tra­di­tional car-rental firms ev­ery time they de­cide to go for a spon­ta­neous jaunt into the coun­try­side.

For those rea­sons, car-shar­ing — which en­ables rent­ing a car even for very short pe­ri­ods of time, at any hour of the day or night — ap­peals to such peo­ple.

The scheme has also be­come handy for busi­nesses which do not want to main­tain a costly fleet of

com­pany cars for their em­ploy­ees.

Ger­many Leads The Way

The first car-shar­ing firm in Ger­many, Stat­tauto, was set up in Ber­lin in 1988, start­ing out with a sin­gle car.

By last year, there were as many as 140 op­er­a­tors in Europe’s big­gest econ­omy, with 1.04 mil­lion reg­is­tered users and a to­tal com­bined pool of 15,400 cars at their dis­posal, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures com­piled by the car-shar­ing in­dus­try fed­er­a­tion BCS.

“That rep­re­sents ap­prox­i­mately half of the to­tal of­fer in Europe,” said Franck Leveque of Bri­tish con­sult­ing firm, Frost & Sul­li­van.

Car shar­ing has been slower to catch on in other Euro­pean coun­tries. In Italy, there are around 250,000 cus­tomers, and in France and the United King­dom around 200,000 each.

Fur­ther afield, there are around 700,000 users in Ja­pan, which started car-shar­ing schemes in 2007, and 1.3 mil­lion in the United States, ac­cord­ing to re­cent data pub­lished by the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia in Berke­ley.

Gun­nar Nehrke of BCS said that Ger­many stands out be­cause of the sheer size and ex­tent of its net­work.

“In many coun­tries, there is car­shar­ing in the cap­i­tal, or two or three of the big­gest cities. Here, car­shar­ing is avail­able in 490 towns and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties,” he told AFP.

BCS pre­dicts the num­ber of users in Ger­many will rise to two mil­lion in the next five years.

Ger­man com­pa­nies ac­tive in the sec­tor in­clude Cam­bio, Stadt­mo­bil, Book-n-drive, TeilAuto or Ci­teeCar, all of which have been ac­tive for a long time in­vest­ing not only in ma­jor cities, but smaller towns as well.

The south-western city of Karl­sruhe has the high­est den­sity of shared cars at 2.15 cars for ev­ery 1,000 in­hab­i­tants.

Leveque at Frost & Sul­li­van said that another im­por­tant fac­tor in the suc­cess of car-shar­ing in Ger­many was the role of the au­tomak­ers them­selves: BMW has its own scheme, called Drivenow, and Daim­ler launched its Car2go in 2008.

Fast-grow­ing Mar­ket

The global car-shar­ing mar­ket is still small. Ac­cord­ing to con­sul­tancy firm Roland Berger, it is pro­jected to grow by 30 per­cent each year and reach 5.6 bil­lion eu­ros in 2020 — a small frac­tion of the vast 1.3 tril­lion euro mar­ket of global auto sales last year.

But au­tomak­ers see it as a new mar­ket­ing chan­nel, a way “of let­ting cus­tomers get to know the brand and pos­si­bly buy­ing one later,” said Bratzel at CAM.

Ber­lin has been dubbed by lo­cal media as the “world cap­i­tal of car­shar­ing.”

At the end of 2014, the num­ber of shared cars in the Ger­man cap­i­tal stood at 3,180, which is al­most as many as in all of the United King­dom.

As many as 45 per­cent of house­holds do not own a car in Ber­lin, where a young, of­ten uni­ver­si­tye­d­u­cated and rel­a­tively well-off pop­u­la­tion sees the ad­van­tages of car-shar­ing.

Trans­port Min­is­ter Alexan­der Do­brindt re­cently promised to help pro­mote “this new form of mo­bil­ity” by of­fer­ing free park­ing to car­shar­ing ve­hi­cles.

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