General Motors' new Maven service puts the automaker in the middle of a battle being waged by Nissan, Ford and others on college campuses to get a leg up in the emerging car-sharing economy.
Maven, which GM unveiled last week, bundles and expands each of GM's car-sharing services, including a residential program in New York City and Chicago and peer-to-peer car sharing in Germany. It also includes a new city-based car-rental service, similar to Zipcar, that allows residents to request the use of Chevrolet vehicles on a Maven smartphone app for $6 to $12 per hour.
The program will begin with vehicles available at 21 parking areas in Ann Arbor, Mich., home to the University of Michigan's sprawling campus and the tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff who live, study and work on it.
GM is the latest automaker to put down stakes in the college market, which analysts say provides automakers the chance to build brand awareness among younger customers who might not otherwise consider buying a vehicle, and to cement their own role as partners in an emerging mode of transportation.
Other automakers with a car-sharing presence on college campuses include Nissan, which in August entered an agreement with Enterprise Rent-A-Car to provide Nissan vehicles at about 90 U.S. colleges for $5-an-hour rentals. GM and Nissan compete with popular car-sharing service Zipcar, which operates on about 500 campuses nationwide.
Ford, which launched a pilot car-sharing program last year in six U.S. cities and London, provided 1,000 vehicles to Zipcar for use on college campuses in 2011 and renewed the partnership in 2014.
GM's new car-sharing brand is part of a bigger bet the automaker is making this year on the so-called mobility movement, a collection of technologies and services that represent alternatives to personal car ownership. It invested $500 million in the ride-hailing service Lyft -- a smaller competitor to Uber -- and soon afterward bought the assets of Sidecar, a pioneer of the routing technology that links smartphone users with drivers. Sidecar shut down at the end of 2015.
GM said it expects about 25 million customers to use car-sharing services worldwide by 2020, up from between 5 million and 6 million today.
Many of those users are young people, including students living in college towns or in densely packed urban centers.
Fewer young people are driving on a regular basis than ever, with several opting for short-term rentals or ride-hailing services to get around and avoid the hassle of keeping a car on campus or in a big city. About 77 percent of Americans age 20 to 24 had a driver's license in 2014, down from 92 percent in 1983 and 82 percent in 2008, according to a U-M study this month.
Kelley Blue Book analyst Jack Nerad said "the jury is still out" on whether car-sharing and ride-sharing services will become the predominant way for young people and others to get around. Still, he said, it's smart for GM and other automakers to get ahead.
"The exposure opportunity is maybe the biggest opportunity automakers have in the grand scheme of things," he said.
GM officials said they view Maven as an investment that will pay off down the road even if it doesn't stand to make money in the short term.
At any rate, Nerad said, GM and others have little to lose by embracing the growing opportunities in mobility among college students and young people.
He said: "Anything that keeps the [production] flow of cars up and puts them into the hands of people, that's a good thing."