Learning to carshare: the impact for drivers and manufacturers

Driven by the growth in smartphone usage, concern for sustainability and the uptake of electric vehicles, carsharing is on the rise. In the coming years, this is likely to change how manufacturers and car rental companies operate: altering the market pattern of demand for cars and speeding up their adoption of data and analytics capabilities.

Carsharing has arrived: some 43.7 million people are likely to have used a shared car worldwide in 2020, according to Statista, and that figure is expected to rise to 53.7 million by 2025. Global revenue in the sector has risen from $8.3 billion in 2017 to $9.6 billion in 2019; despite the 2020 chaos of Covid-19, it is still expected to hit $14 billion by 2025.

Naturally, there are regional variations when it comes to uptake. In China’s urban centres, carsharing has taken off wildly (for more on China, see our blog on global challenges and lessons from the country). Whereas in rural areas of all countries, it remains rare. In India, however, the market is growing: “The market has ballooned,” says Abhijit Pal, Partner, Mazars, “over the last few years, we have seen average annual growth here of more than 25%.”

Growth in Europe has also been steady: “There is huge potential in this industry,” says Christian Back, Partner and Co-head of Automotive sector, Mazars, who points to Germany where users are up from 600,000 in 2016 to just over one million by 2020, based on Statista data. In terms of urban centres, growth in Berlin is matched by other markets, including New York and Helsinki.

All this is taking place despite the fact that it is relatively difficult to turn a profit with carsharing. “There are a lot of new players in the market,” explains Back, “but partly because of higher maintenance and cleaning costs compared to individually-owned cars, it is a hard market in which to be profitable.”

Learning to share

In the coming years, the rise of carsharing is likely to be boosted by four global trends.

Electric vehicles

The first is the rise of electric cars. Electric vehicles have fewer individual parts and are cheaper to maintain. This provides a much-needed cost advantage for shared car companies that choose to offer a majority electric fleet: a cost advantage that can be critical when operating as a low-margin business. In addition, the use of electric vehicles by operators has led to customers taking up carsharing precisely because they want to experience what it’s like to travel by this new, greener mode of transport. 

Connected devices

The second is the increasing use of smartphones and other connected devices, which gives carsharing firms greater access to more customers every year. As smartphones reach maximum penetration in markets, they make carsharing more convenient for users than traditional taxi services, and they make it easier to integrate carsharing in bundled transport solutions.  

Greener thinking

Thirdly, the perception that carsharing is more sustainable could help boost the market over the coming years as customers increasingly seek out greener options.

Carsharing can also be more sustainable when it speeds up the transition to electric cars within a market. Electric cars themselves, when powered by sustainably-produced energy, are a more sustainable option than conventional vehicles.

Growing ecosystem

Finally, carsharing is likely to be boosted by other players – such as car rental companies –adopting carsharing business models and investing heavily. “Traditional rental car companies are making huge investments in carsharing options to transform themselves into global mobility companies,” says Isabelle Massa, Partner, Mazars.

Shared success for the automotive ecosystem

Carsharing is already reshaping multiple areas of the ecosystem as carsharing firms emerge as key clients for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This trend alters the kinds of car that OEMs produce: those in the business of carsharing are less interested in purchasing cars based on branding, customisation and style. They are, instead, more interested in price and aftercare services. “As the proportion of total sales to carsharing companies rises, price becomes more important. This is a disaster for premium OEMs but it’s a big chance for those OEMs that produce smaller and cheaper cars,” explains Back.

He adds, “Mainstream players like Daimler/BMW and Volkswagen have introduced carsharing offerings, Share Now and WeShare, respectively. This approach means OEMs can introduce, test and refine new developments for the market. The apps that drivers use to unlock the vehicles could be used to conduct customer satisfaction analyses and give OEMs the chance to build brand loyalty along the way.”

Data is another way to please the driver. Information from shared cars, collected and anonymised, offers OEMs a deeper understanding of what different drivers want. “Data from customer rating systems and keyless locking or unlocking via apps can be useful to analyse customer behaviour patterns and build lifetime value models,” says Pal. “It gives them access to real time insights on metrics relating to journey and parking times, distance travelled, speed, and more.” OEMs can use this data to adapt their marketing activities, improve customer relationships and accelerate their research and development. It can, in other words, help OEMs work more like technology companies, where data is one of the most valuable assets.

In the longer term, new opportunities are likely to arise from the application of voice analytics to shared cars. Back sees direct real-time interaction with customers as priceless and expects OEMs to be able to profit considerably from it. “A car might ask the driver how they are feeling at the end of the journey and analyse both their response and tone of voice, painting a very detailed picture of customer satisfaction and how it combines with vehicle utilisation,” he says.

Such data can also help companies segment customers in a strategic way. “Information captured through shared car fleets can help insurance companies charge the right premiums,” said Massa. “And car rental companies can adapt their prices for different types of drivers.”

Policy encouraging carsharing

Policy at a local, regional, or national level is moving towards encouraging carsharing too. Some policies make it easier to use shared cars, for example dedicated parking spots or special operating areas for shared vehicles. Others aim to nudge passengers away from individual ownership. “Some German cities are experimenting to restrict the use of private cars,” says Back. “To encourage carsharing, many actually think about making shared cars exempt from those restrictions, because of their contribution to the city’s overall sustainability”. He adds, “the use of carsharing services in cities is getting easier and it’s slowly drawing people away from public transport. This opens up plenty of opportunities for the automotive industry to grow in the future.”

Despite the fact that carsharing remains a tough market in which to make a profit, its growth shows no signs of slowing, and it is cementing itself as a necessary part of the mobility infrastructure of many urban areas around the world. According to current trends, expect OEMs to continue to adapt to serve their carsharing clients and adopt technology in line with their needs. If energy grids decarbonise and carsharing continues to reduce vehicle utilisation, its success will be a vital part of efforts to make transport systems more sustainable.