“We’re reducing the burden on cities"

Daimler is a market leader in carsharing with its car2go brand. In this interview, Thomas Beermann, Managing Director of car2go Europe, explains the company’s future plans.

Car2go is making a tangible contribution to reducing traffic and emissions in city centers. But there are still issues with the availability of parking spaces. What input would you like to see from local authorities to make carsharing more popular?

Thomas Beermann: Free-floating carsharing is a great opportunity for cities. Every large city that we have spoken to has more or less the same three problems, namely traffic density, air pollution and a lack of parking spaces. The service provided by car2go offers proven relief for all these problems. Some authorities are fully aware of this, others are still lagging behind. Especially in Italy many authorities are very progressive when it comes to finding solutions to these problems.

Areas where cities can help us include parking regulations and access restrictions. A hot topic, for example, is the question of residents’ parking. We frequently receive complaints from people who contend that they are allowed to park their own car in front of their house, but that a neighbor who uses car2go and has no car of their own should not be allowed to. We view this somewhat differently, of course. Clear policies are needed in every city in which we are active. The carsharing law that is currently under discussion in Germany has the potential to be an important framework.

It adds up: Each carsharing vehicle replaces six to eight vehicles (for private use), on average. (Illustration: Realgestalt)
The more often vehicles are used, the less often they are taking up valuable parking spaces.

How many car2go vehicles are currently on the road?

Currently, there are more than 14,000 car2go vehicles in 26 cities. On average, each vehicle is used between six and eight times a day. Our most successful location in Madrid even sees averages of 15 times. The more often vehicles are used, the less often they are taking up valuable parking spaces. And the more people use our vehicles, the fewer private cars there will be in the cities. That’s why our strategic focus is on increasing the capacity utilization of the vehicles.

Is car2go not a competitor to public transport?

We consider our carsharing service to be an addition to urban traffic that works as part of a closely integrated system with other operators, and particularly public transport. And this is reflected in our users, who use car2go intelligently in combination with other services. Sometimes the car is the best way to get from A to B, and sometimes it’s the metro. It depends on many factors: what time of day am I travelling? Is there currently a traffic jam in the city? Do I have any luggage with me? What is the weather like? The list goes on.

So far, car2go has mainly used smart cars. Will this continue to be the case?

In Germany car2go is already using Mercedes-Benz cars at all locations except Stuttgart. This is the result of clear feedback from our customers, who occasionally would have liked a bigger car, and this will be the future direction we take. We will have a good mix of smart and Mercedes-Benz cars, but the right mix may vary a little between locations. The Mercedes-Benz cars have undoubtedly been very well received by our customers. A rollout in other locations such as Vienna and North America is planned for the first quarter.

What role does electromobility play?

We’re already the largest provider of free-floating electric carsharing. In Stuttgart, Amsterdam and Madrid we have electric-only fleets of more than 1,300 electric smart cars. The electric vehicle segment is of key strategic importance to us. In the long term we see the future of carsharing as purely electrically powered, but there needs to be a considerable expansion of the charging station infrastructure in many cities to achieve this. The experience we have already gained in operating electric fleets is our greatest asset. No other company has better knowledge of how to implement this commercially.

In motion: Each carsharing vehicle is used six to eight times a day, on average. (Illustration: Realgestalt)
In the long term we see the future of carsharing as purely electrically powered.

A study by the University of California, Berkeley shows that car2go can help reduce car ownership. Is there similar research for Germany or Europe?

Over the past year a number of similar studies have been carried out in Milan, Munich, Vienna and other cities. Fundamentally, they all come to the conclusion that, on average, every carsharing vehicle replaces six to eight private vehicles. Either the users don’t buy a car as they had planned to, or they sell their old vehicle. It’s small and old vehicles, in particular, that are removed from our roads.

What is the age structure of car2go customers?

The typical car2go customer is male, around 30 years old and well educated, which is a very interesting target group. Especially when you consider that they’re also likely to be the potential Mercedes-Benz buyers of tomorrow. A simple calculation highlights the marketing value of car2go for Mercedes-Benz as a brand: if we rented out 300 Mercedes-Benz cars in Berlin around eight times per day on average, then that would equal 2,400 test drives daily by a highly attractive target group.

The automotive world is currently undergoing a change that is not only driven by alternative drive types, but also by the way in which vehicles are used. Vehicle ownership is no longer seen as a must. Manufacturers that once limited themselves to delivering moving status symbols are now evolving into mobility service providers. Carsharing, rather than car ownership, is the new normal, and Daimler is playing a leading role in this trend. car2go is currently the largest carsharing company in the world. Around two million customers in nine countries and 29 urban centres now take advantage of this “temporary mobility” service.

This trend has an impact on the number of vehicles on the roads and therefore on the environment, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. In the first scientific study of its kind, Elliot Martin and Susan Shaheen gathered data over a three-year period in the cities of Calgary and Vancouver in Canada, and Seattle, San Diego and Washington D.C. in the US. The two scientists looked at how car2go impacts on urban mobility and on environmental pollution from traffic.

“Our exhaustive, three-year research effort into one-way carsharing reveals that car2go vehicles result in fewer privately owned vehicles on the road, fewer vehicle miles travelled and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the cities observed,” says Susan Shaheen. “Participation from car2go and its members gave us unprecedented access and insight into how this kind of innovative mobility service works. We were able to research how it is impacting on North American cities, especially as car2go has the largest carsharing fleet in North America.” Data from 9,497 car2go customers was analysed for the study.

Sharing, rather than owning, and only paying when you are actually at the wheel, is not just good for car2go customers. The environment and urban air quality also benefit from lower traffic density. Between 2 and 5 percent of car2go customers even sold their own vehicle as a result of their carsharing experience, the researchers from Berkeley discovered. The average age of the vehicles sold by car2go members was 14.4 years.

A further 7 to 10 percent of respondents kept their car, but no longer pursued the planned purchase of a new vehicle. Overall, one car2go car replaces between seven and eleven vehicles on city streets, according to the researchers’ calculations. A positive side effect is that city centres gained additional parking capacity as a result of the 28,000 drop in the number of vehicles in the cities studied.

The cowboy city of Calgary in Canada saw the largest fall in the number of privately owned cars because of car2go. Every shared car replaced a total of eleven vehicles here, adding up to the equivalent of 6,000 vehicles. The environment also benefited from a reduction in greenhouse gases of 14 tons per car2go vehicle, a total of around 8,000 tons of CO₂ a year. In Vancouver, which is particularly environmentally conscious, car2go removed over 8,000 vehicles from the streets. The total vehicle miles travelled (VMT) fell by 34.2 million miles and the overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions was 10,000 tons.

The researchers from Berkeley estimate that the sharing of cars has led to a saving of between ten and 29 million VMT per year per city. This equals a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 5.5 and 12.7 tons per car2go vehicle. On average, environmental pollution in the cities studied fell by 10 percent. According to the scientists’ calculations, the overall reduction in greenhouse gases in the five cities was in the region of 39,127 tons.

The study also found that carsharing influenced everyday driving habits. 10 percent of participants in the five cities stated that they drive less overall. However, a majority, especially in densely populated urban centres such as Vancouver and Washington, stated that they tend to drive more. Among the losers are the taxi companies, as it appears that car2go is seen as a replacement for taxis in most cities. But car2go customers also use public transport less frequently and get around on foot more often.

The study was carried out by Innovative Mobility Research. The research team belongs to the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) at Berkeley and focuses on research into the future of mobility.

Paul DeLong, CEO of car2go USA, is excited about the study: “The findings confirm that carsharing has a significant and positive impact on the cities in terms of a reduction of vehicle miles travelled and a fall in environmental pollution.”

Spontaneously organise a carshare through an app, take advantage of flexible carsharing or hail, pay for and review a taxi at the click of a button. The ability to do this will play an increasingly important role in urban centres around the world over the coming years, according to a 2016 study by the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) in California called “The Impact of New Mobility Services on the Automotive Industry”.

The study identifies two initially important target groups for this development, the so-called millennials born around the turn of the century, and the baby boomers born between the end of the Second World War and the 1960s. Using the range of digital mobility services comes naturally to the younger group, while older customers choose these new mobility services (NMS) as they value the convenience and flexibility.

But what benefits does this trend have for the automotive industry? The conclusions of the CAR study make for positive reading for the industry: “The mainstreaming of new mobility services is an opportunity for automakers more than it is a threat,” according to the white paper.

The industry must be prepared to reinvent itself, and that is a task that is as old as the motor car itself. Its inventors, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, did more than just introduce a radically new means of transport back in 1886. The two automotive pioneers also turned the established engine manufacturing sector on its head. The motor car allowed the stationary working machine to become the beating heart of a new product, which in turn enabled a whole range of new services.

This ability to adapt is in the automotive sector’s genes. Daimler has created several mobility services that bring new targets into vehicle development, such as autonomous, electrically powered and networked driving. These services include the Moovel app, the MyTaxi portal, the carsharing provider car2go and the professional driver service Blacklane. The company runs these providers either as subsidiaries, or it owns a share in them, for example in the leading coach company Flixbus. Mercedes-Benz also offers customers around the world complete systems for bus rapid transit (BRT), covering everything from vehicles and consultancy to financing.

The study views new mobility services less as catalysts of a sudden sea change than as drivers of a steady evolution in mobility: “The gradual change will allow everyone involved in the transport sector – in particular vehicle manufacturers – to adapt and to secure their market position,” says the white paper.

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