Car2go, the Daimler-owned car-sharing company, says it has gained early traction in China after debuting its service there less than two months ago.
The company says it has more than 78,000 registered customers for its membership service, which lets users rent a car for short periods of time, in many cases for less than an hour.
Car2go has 400 of its two-door Smart ForTwo vehicles in the Chongqing region, a 60-square-kilometer area of 30 million people in central China. It is Car2go’s only location in Asia.
The number of registered users might seem small compared to area’s overall population. But it took Car2go four to five years to reach 100,000 to 130,000 registered customers in the company’s most successful cities in Europe and North America.
Car2go CEO Roland Keppler said the start in Chongqing far exceeded the company’s expectations without elaborating or explaining what he had thought demand would be. The company estimates that one of the 400 vehicles available in Chongqing is rented every 1.7 minutes.
“The Chinese customers are really enthusiastic about the service and make intensive use of the vehicles,” Keppler said in a statement.
Car2go operates in nine U.S. cities, as well as in metropolitan area in Austria, Canada, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden.
Asia-Pacific has some of the greatest potential for car-sharing and other unconventional transportation services like peer-to-peer car rentals, according to a report released earlier this year by Boston Consulting Group. It’s a region where the cost of ownership, including license plates and user permits, is high, especially in urban areas like some of China’s biggest cities. Densely populated cities that have car-sharing friendly policies like designated parking areas as well as a high cost of owning a car are critical for this kind of service to thrive.
In Asia-Pacific, where per capita incomes are generally lower than the U.S. and Europe and the transportation infrastructure is less developed, car-sharing will be economically viable in cities with populations of 5 million or more, according to the Boston Consulting Group report. Asia-Pacific will nonetheless be the largest market in absolute terms, because of its large and growing population, the report says.
In China alone, the 15 largest cities have 9 million people or more.
Daimler, probably best known as the company behind Mercedes-Benz, has been expanding beyond its car manufacturing roots to serve a growing number of people who would rather use mass transit, on-demand car-sharing services, and ride-hailing apps like Lyft. The company also created a subsidiary called Moovel Group that has been busy snapping up transportation-related app startups including route planner RideScout, taxi booking app Mytaxi, and mobile ticketing app GlobeSherpa.
The Moovel app combines all local public transport options, car-sharing providers Car2go and Flinkster, mytaxi, rental bicycles, and Germany’s national rail service. Moovel Group announced in April that Austin-based RideScout had merged with Portland-based GlobeSherpa to form a North American arm called Moovel. The newly formed company is integrating its collection of transportation services into a more streamlined service app that lets users get real-time data about public transit schedules, buy tickets, and order a ride through Lyft.
Mercedes Benz’s answer to Google’s driverless car:
In September, Car2go aligned itself closer to the Mercedes Benz by adding 75 four-door Mercedes-Benz B-class vehicles to its fleet in Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver. The program is designed to offer members an alternative to the car-sharing company’s signature vehicle: the diminutive Smart Fortwo vehicle, which is also made by Daimler.