SEATTLE — For the makers of the “ultimate driving machine,” DriveNow must have seemed like the perfect name for a car-sharing service.
Launched in 2011 in Munich, DriveNow offered young city dwellers, many of whom did not own cars, a handy way to set up short-term rentals on their smartphone and quickly get behind the wheel of a BMW.
Then came Uber and Lyft and a race to develop self-driving cars, raising profound questions about BMW’s driver-centric strategy. After all, what good is DriveNow if people don’t want to drive?
The answers to that question are reflected in BMW’s new brand name, ReachNow, and its new strategy of putting more transportation services at customers’ fingertips — even if it’s someone else, or something else, that’s ultimately driving. It shows the company’s determination to define how people get around, in the face of Silicon Valley challengers.
“We don’t want to be shaped,” BMW board member Peter Schwarzenbauer said at an April 8 event here, where BMW is rebooting its U.S. car-sharing program after an abortive pilot in San Francisco. “We want to shape [mobility] ourselves.”
ReachNow will start as a classic point-to-point car-sharing service, with 370 vehicles — a mix of 3-series sedans, i3 electric cars and Mini Coopers — spread across central Seattle. Users reserve a car by smartphone, pick it up on the street, drive to their destination and then park on the street nearby.
But more services are being built for the app, including chauffeured ride-sharing, peer-to-peer car rentals and on-site carpools for businesses. By expanding its offering, BMW is proposing to take on a variety of startups — not just Uber and Lyft, but “sharing economy” startups such as Getaround and Turo, which work like Airbnb for cars.
“We see this as the most comprehensive mobility offering on the market right now,” Schwarzenbauer said. “It’s not one-dimensional like some other offerings.”
Daimler AG announced last week that its Moovel mobility division is opening a new U.S. subsidiary with a similar goal of offering all-in-one transportation services.
A handful of BMW employees based in San Francisco already have moved to Seattle to run ReachNow, a subsidiary of BMW AG that will have its own CEO. BMW declined to say whether that chief has been hired.
Currently, the top-ranking executive is chief customer officer Sandra Phillips, who oversaw the Canadian launch of Daimler’s rival car-sharing service, Car2Go.