The Car2go project has 200 Smart ForTwos in Ulm and 210 in Austin, where a pilot with city workers began in November 2009. The Austin program was opened to the general public in May. More than 80,000 rentals have taken place this year, said Nicholas Cole, CEO of Car2go N.A., based in Austin.
Austin charges 35 cents per minute, $12 an hour or $65 for the day. Renters are liable for the first $1,000 of damage but don't pay for gasoline or insurance.
Car2go vehicles can be picked up within a 30-square-mile section of Austin called a "geofence." Cole said the area contains about 200,000 of Austin's 675,000 residents. Renters can drive outside the geofence but have to return cars within it at designated parking areas downtown or at a meter.
Vehicles can be reserved on the Internet or by using an iPhone with an application that shows where available cars are parked. The average rental time is 20 to 25 minutes, "but we see a lot of people using the cars for one hour or more," said Cole.
The cars are equipped with a telematics system that not only monitors their location but also how much fuel a vehicle has and whether the battery is fully charged. Each renter enters a PIN number and is asked to assess whether the car is clean or damaged. The cars all have fuel cards, and the user gets a 10 minute credit for refueling.
Cole said students and commuters who leave their vehicles at home are frequent users. The program has gotten accolades from Austin residents.
"It has created a lot of buzz," said Cole. "We are getting calls from different cities interested in what we are doing."
A decision on what cities will be added will be made in January, said Cole, declining to identify candidates.
A new production model called the Smart Car2go Edition -- with a more sophisticated telematics system, solar roof and new hardware -- was unveiled at the Paris auto show in October. The model will be used next spring in Hamburg, Germany, where Daimler is launching Car2go in a joint venture with the rental company Europcar Autovermietung GmbH. Cole hopes to get that model for Austin.
Cole doesn't think that adding larger Mercedes-Benz cars to the fleet is necessary -- or even fitting for a program designed to help relieve urban congestion. He called Smart's Car2go "personal public transportation plus one -- the model seems to fit perfectly."