Judging from the latest headlines, after Uber vs. Didi and Mobike vs. ofo, the next big rivalry in China might be car sharing. Car sharing is a cheap, convenient, and environmentally friendly way of traveling around the city. But more importantly, it is definitely sexier than public transportation. We descended upon the streets of Beijing to find out whether the new trend is indeed catching on in the busy capital of China.
Our first contestant was a lovely German by the name of Mercedes, who relinquished her maiden name and is now known as Daimler. Daimler AG’s car sharing service Car2Go has been operating since 2009 and has drawn 2 million users in 30 locations on three continents.
The company entered the China market in 2015 with two services featuring gas-fueled smart cars: Car2Go, a free-floating car sharing service, and Car2Share (Suixinkai) which is station based. Since then, it has announced the merger of the two services, but only the free-floating service is still available in Chongqing. Nevertheless, Car2Share which has 60 stations around China with 20 located in Beijing had largely positive reviews.
“It’s convenient and quite cheap,” a young man who preferred to be called Jiemu told us. Car2Share only charges RMB 99 for registration, RMB 12 per hour, and an additional fee of RMB 1.5 per kilometer, insurance and gas included.
“I use it for work because my office is close to the station. The only trouble is that I cannot leave the car anywhere else. Parking is a problem,” he added.
This opinion was echoed by another Car2Share user who said that the service is great, but only convenient for those based around the business districts where the stations are located. Many people live in the periphery where rent is cheaper but for them, the service is not very convenient.
Car2Share did prove useful for another reason, and that was avoiding Beijing’s strict driving restrictions. Jefferson Zhang told us he was using the service because he was not allowed to take his own car on the road that day due to the city’s traffic control rules. In order to fight congestion and air pollution, many Chinese cities limit the number of cars on the road by taking out one group of vehicles each day a week according to the end numbers of their license plates. This made us wonder – car sharing may be good for the drivers, but will it really help to fight congestion in the long run?
Our second contestant is of Chinese descent, a born Beijinger. GoFun Chuxing was founded in 2016 by a state-owned auto leasing company Beijing Shouqi Group. It has so far spread its station-based car sharing services to four cities in China. It currently has around 1,100 electric cars in Beijing and is planning to add more this year.
The company has ambitious plans – it wants to cover 20 cities and provide 15,000 cars by the end of 2017. But for now, the service is still a novelty for consumers. To introduce its services, GoFun organized a special event on Valentine’s Day and placed a random 100 cars on the streets of Beijing to offer free rides and coupons.
“I used it because it is a new thing in China,” said Liu Ying, a young woman who has only used the service once. “I think it is convenient that I don’t have to pay for parking.”
Liu owns her own car, but what attracted her to GoFun was that she does not need to pay for maintenance and other costs with a car sharing service. The service was also cheaper than taking a taxi when she used discount coupons. GoFun charges a refundable deposit of RMB 699, but the rates are only RMB 1 yuan per kilometer and 0.1 yuan per minute for a ride.
“The disadvantages are that it is not easy to find the cars in the city. You can only find them in a few richer areas and you can only park them at certain places.”
Maddie Liu has been using the service for some time to drive her son for lessons in a remote Beijing suburb every weekend. Another measure implemented by Beijing to fight congestions is the licence plate lottery which is notoriously hard to obtain.
“I’m still planning to buy my own car, but it is so difficult to get a licence plate number now,” said Maddie. “GoFun is much cheaper than calling a taxi.”
GoFun is currently in negotiations to secure more parking lots for its little Chery EVs. It has recently announced a partnership with the Beijing Municipal Road & Bridge Group which will help the company achieve that. This is an important accomplishment knowing how rare and expensive parking spots are in the capital. Whether or not Chinese drivers will abandon their traditional penchant for car ownership will depend on how convenient and affordable new car-sharing services will be. After all, bike-sharing in China only took off when bikes were literally everywhere. However, it is possible that not all cities will be keen on welcoming additional cars on their streets.
Despite these issues and the somewhat lukewarm reception from consumers, other companies are betting on the rise of car-sharing. BAIC Motors has recently launched its own car-sharing service while LeEco has also joined the game with LeShare. Let’s just hope that the potential upcoming car-sharing war doesn’t bring the same chaos to China’s parking lots as bike-sharing did.
(Top photo from Baidu Images.)