BMW wants to expand its DriveNow car-sharing program to U.S. cities that will allow its electric vehicles to be picked up and dropped off on public streets.
DriveNow was launched in June 2012 in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the program has a fleet of 70 1-series coupe-based ActiveE EVs and 2,000 registered users. The Bay Area is DriveNow’s only U.S. location.
BMW started the program in San Francisco because the area is a car-sharing hotbed, said Richard Steinberg, CEO of DriveNow USA. Competitors include Zipcar, City CarShare and taxi and limousine services accessible via the Internet, he said.
But unlike in Europe, where BMW runs DriveNow in four cities that allow the vehicles to be left on the street, San Francisco “hasn’t embraced A to B car sharing,” Steinberg said.
In the Bay Area, BMW must use parking garages and other privately owned areas for its DriveNow vehicles. It has installed chargers at each of the 18 locations, including Stevens Creek BMW in Santa Clara, Calif.
“One of the main drivers of success is the street access,” Steinberg said. “Wherever you want to be, there have to be arrangements made with municipalities.”
Having cars on the street in Europe has created buzz and drawn new customers. “The big difference is the visibility — the vehicles market themselves,” he said. “They have big decals on the side.”
Steinberg said DriveNow got off to a slow start in the United States so he approached two companies in Silicon Valley several months ago, asking to have DriveNow cars on their corporate campuses. Now, the program leaves cars on four corporate campuses where company employees have access to the vehicles, he said. The companies, which Steinberg wouldn’t name, pay no fee and get no share of the rental income.
“We had a limited footprint in the city,” he said. “It was tough to compete, but now we are flying.”
About 50 percent of DriveNow’s business is corporate, he said.
DriveNow also added pickup and drop-off locations at the San Francisco and Oakland airports. Trips to or from the airports usually cost $12 to $15 from downtown, depending on traffic, and are considerably cheaper than taxis or limos, Steinberg said.
DriveNow members pay $39 for a lifetime membership. They are issued a card with a radio frequency identification chip that also serves as a key. Cars can be booked via a DriveNow app available on Apple and Android phones.
Members pay $12 for the first 30 minutes they use the car and 32 cents for every additional minute. An hour costs $20. If the car is parked, the rate drops to 13 cents a minute.
The average rental in the United States is more than an hour, unlike in Europe where it is 30 minutes, Steinberg said.
The DriveNow cars in the Bay Area are part of a 700-vehicle fleet of ActiveE electric cars in a two-year trial with lessees in key U.S. cities. BMW says those leases begin to expire before U.S. sales of the i3 electric car begin in the second quarter of 2014, but the leases can be extended until the i3 is available. DriveNow likely will switch to the i3 and add internal combustion vehicles to its fleet, but “none of those decisions have been made,” Steinberg said.
In Europe, DriveNow offers the Mini Cooper coupe and convertible, the BMW X1 compact crossover and the BMW 1 series. There are 10,000 registered users. DriveNow is offered in partnership with the European car rental company Sixt in Munich, Berlin, Dusseldorf and Cologne.
So far, BMW says only the Berlin DriveNow program is profitable.