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Toyota takes a small detour into car sharing

Toyota will launch a pilot car-sharing project using COMs, an ultra-compact electric vehicle.Toyota will launch a pilot car-sharing project using COMs, an ultra-compact electric vehicle.
Toyota will launch a pilot car-sharing project using COMs, an ultra-compact electric vehicle.Courtesy of Toyota

Toyota says it will start testing a service for sharing electric car on the island Okinawa, a project that could lead to broader efforts to connect tourists to local attractions without generating emissions.

The one-year trial project, which begins in January, aims to assess the viability of tourism-center car-sharing, Toyota says. The car sharing project will operate on the island’s Motobu Peninsula, an area that attracts tourists who visit popular sites during the day and do not stay the night. Motobu Town Tourism Association, the Nakijin Village Tourism Association, and the JTB Group are also involved in the project, Toyota says.

The car sharing trial will use about 30 COMs vehicles—an ultra-compact electric vehicle—that will be stationed at hotels and tourist sites. Each COMS vehicle will be stocked with a tablet and a new app that gives recommendations about places of interest. The app also provides information on each spot and directions on how to reach it. The size and shape of these golf-cart-like vehicles are designed to travel on roads that are too narrow for cars or too steep for bicycles.

The project will be based around Ha:mo, a local transport system developed by Toyota (TM) that combines the use of personal vehicles and public transportation. The Japanese automaker has been conducting field tests on Ha:mo in Toyota City since October 2012. That project is being expanded with 100 COMs vehicles that connects users with vehicles and parking stations.

 

While Toyota’s car sharing project is tiny at the moment, it illustrates the growing interest and investment by automakers into how people get from point A to point B. It’s no longer only about designing and selling as many cars and trucks as possible (although that’s still a primary focus).

Daimler, BMW, GM (GM), and Ford (F) are all operating, or testing, some variation of car sharing. And for good reason. The global car sharing industry is expected to exceed $6 billion by 2020, according to the Carsharing Association.

Car2go is perhaps the most visible automaker-owned car sharing business in the U.S. The Austin-based company, which is owned by Daimler, has more than 1 million registered members in 29 cities globally. The company, which traditionally uses the diminutive two-door Smart Fortwo vehicle, said in September that it was adding 75 four-door Mercedes-Benz B-class cars to its fleet in Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver.

DriveNow, a car sharing joint venture between BMW Group and Sixt SE that premiered in 2011, has had success in Europe, particularly in Berlin, where each of its more than 800 cars are driven five to six times a day. The company has had challenges in the U.S. DriveNow is suspending service effective Monday in San Francisco, the only U.S. city in which it was operating. It has a goal of launching in 10 cities in North America in the next two years, despite issues over parking policies in San Francisco. DriveNow’s business model—a free-floating service that allows vehicles to be picked up and left anywhere within a designated operating area—is in direct conflict with the regulations in San Francisco, which only provides parking permits only to round-trip and peer-to-peer car-sharing services.

GM said in October two new car- and ride-sharing projects: one in New York City that is already operating, and one to come in first quarter next year in another U.S. city. Each project will allow GM to test hardware and software systems and gain insights into user experiences. The company also introduced a peer-to-peer sharing service called CarUnity through its Opel brand in Europe, and put a fleet of EN-V 2.0 electric concept vehicles into service at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai as part of a multimodal campus transportation system alongside bicycles, cars, and shuttle buses.

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