Car-sharing is the next battleground in China after the bike-sharing rush

Foreigners know about Chengdu because of panda bears, and Chinese are obsessed with the capital city of Sichuan province due to the leisurely and comfortable lifestyles of its citizens. Eating super spicy Sichuan hot pot and playing mahjong, the famous Chinese game, are two of the top attractions in Chengdu.

However, the latest car-sharing rental service in Chengdu has become as important as those two centuries-old activities for people living in the “land of abundance”. Now, on the way to see the adorable panda bears, you can drive a rented BMW at the price of 2 yuan (USD 0.3) per minute after you eat hot pot and play mahjong.

According to the BMW Blog, the BMW Group, in partnership with EVCARD, a Shanghai-based electric car-sharing company under Global Car-Sharing & Rental Co. Ltd., launched its co-branded car-sharing service in Chengdu under the name “ReachNow Powered By EVCARD” on December 1st.

The mobility service offers station-based electric car-sharing. The debut of ReachNow in Asia marks the BMW Group’s first mobility service offering in the Chinese market, and it aims to provide new and innovative individual mobility solutions to Chinese customers at the price of 2 yuan per minute. The service will include 100 pure electric BMW i3 cars.

Competitors swarm in

The “sharing economy” has been one of the most popular keywords in China over the last two years. From small items like shared umbrellas, shared power banks, and shared bikes to bigger assets such as time-shared rooms, time-shared car rentals, the sharing economy now covers countless industries. There are, however, still some ups and downs in these shared sectors.

While the market has witnessed a series of bankruptcies of bike-sharing startups, investors in the car-sharing sector in China are increasing, as many automobile brands have launched their own car-sharing platforms.

Earlier this month, Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co. Ltd. said that it will invest RMB 60 million in Reachda, a car-sharing service operated by Shenyang-based Neusoft Reach Automotive Technology. Reachda will also begin using Honda’s vehicles for its car-sharing service from 2018.

About three months before BMW’s move in Chengdu, Audi released its “Audi on Demand+”, a feature that allows users to select a car from a range of Audi models, book it, and then pay via their smartphones.

Customers can rent the cars for between four hours and 30 days, and service fees are billed by the hour. The all-inclusive rate contains a complete service package that includes unlimited driving mileage and insurance coverage.

Beijing is the first Chinese city to have Audi on Demand+. The company plans to make the service available in medium and large-sized cities across China in order to form a region-wide mobility service network.

Audi’s counterpart Daimler took the action even earlier. Daimler launched its car2Go rental service in Chongqing in April 2016. After only two months of operations in Chongqing, car2Go had served 78,000 customers, which is almost as many users as the company served in North American and European cities after five years in business, according to a company press release.

Meanwhile, many Internet companies are also competing in this sector.

Photo from Baidu Images.

In November, Mobike, one of China’s largest bike-sharing companies, started partnering with electric car-maker Xinte Electric to launch a fleet of shared automobiles. And Meituan-Dianping, the “Chinese Groupon”, has launched its timeshare car rental application, Meituan Zuche, as a pilot project in Chengdu.

Since the beginning of December, Mytogo.com, an app-based car-sharing platform, has increased its number of registered cars to 1,000, with various models in 300 more new parking areas.

Challenges to swallow

Despite the influx of investors in the car-sharing sector, companies are still finding it difficult to make solid profits. According to a survey released by PwC, the current average losses of timeshare car rental businesses range from RMB 50 to RMB 120 per day per vehicle. Only one company of all the 30-plus registered timeshare car rental firms has made profits, one PwC partner was reported as saying.

In addition, the shortage of public resources has also become a bottleneck restricting the rapid development of car-sharing business. Several issues, such as the long waiting list for new energy vehicles, the insufficient number of charging stations, and the limited parking spaces in those Chinese cities, will have negative influence on users’ experience.

(Top photo from ifanr.com)

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Y.R. Zhao

Zhao is our columnist. She previously worked at China Daily, and she was the chief Southeast Asia correspondent while living in Bangkok. She holds two master’s degrees from the University of Sydney and Australian National University. She is a foodie and avid marathoner. She believes technology will change our lives and that China is leading the trend.

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