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The Electric Drive: Car2Go Debuts North America’s First All-Electric Car Sharing Service

January 4, 2012

This is an interesting story I tracked over the summer and planned to sell to Slate in the fall, until the editor I was working with at that publication changed jobs. However, an all-electric car sharing service is a cool concept, and one we’re sure to hear more about in the future.

Car2Go, a subsidiary of Daimler North America, has launched what it claims is North America’s first car sharing service featuring an exclusively electric fleet. The 300 Smart Fortwo vehicles made their debut in November in San Diego, Calif.

“Car sharing models that feature electric vehicles (EVs) are a great way to get EVs into the hands of those who are considering buying one or who are curious about the technology,” said Genevieve Cullen, vice president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association. She added that EV car sharing gets people used to the concept of charging an EV in publicly accessible charging stations. In addition, it is a way to offer EV transportation to those who may not be able to afford EVs, which are still very expensive: members of a car sharing service would not have a monthly car payment, or have to pay for repairs/upkeep and car insurance.

Car sharing and car rentals that feature EVs and plug-in hybrids are going to be more in demand (and more prevalent) as the charging infrastructure becomes more mature, said Nicholas Cole, CEO of Car2Go North America. He went on to say that, “Car sharing is a great model for an urban market, where parking is non-existent or very expensive, so the Smart Fortwo, with a very small footprint, makes sense.”

According to Colin Read, vice president of corporate development for Ecotality, which is a strategic partner of Car2Go, San Diego was chosen for the debut of the first exclusively electric fleet because approximately 1,000 EV chargers are to be installed in the San Diego area over the next few months, making that city “the ideal environment to test the Car2Go all-EV model in an area with a robust, mature charging environment.”

In North America, Car2Go is currently available in Austin, Tex (its North American corporate HQ); Washington, DC; and Vancouver, BC, Canada. Car2Go is available in Europe in Vienna, Austria; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Lyon, France; and Ulm, Hamburg, and Düsseldorf, Germany. Although all locations exclusively feature the Smart Fortwo (they are made by Daimler), only San Diego and Amsterdam, which also launched in November, have an all-electric fleet. Cars in the other locations are powered by a conventional combustion engine.

How does Car2Go’s version of car sharing work, versus conventional car sharing and rental services? With Car2Go, there is no designated drop-off time or location. You simply must drop the vehicle off within the designated operating area when you are done with it.

Car2Go members can reserve a vehicle up to 24-hours in advance or can access one “on-demand.” A vehicle can be reserved using an iPhone or Android app, the My Car2Go area of the Car2Go website, or by calling the Car2Go customer care center. Available cars can be located using the app or through the customer call center, or by clicking on the Car2Go Finder on the website.

Registration is a one-time $35 fee, and rentals are charged to the debit or credit card used when registering. You can find out more details about how Car2Go San Diego works here.

Cole said that the company plans to announce more North American Car2Go cities in the future, and transition to an exclusively electric fleet in all North American locations as the EV charging infrastructure becomes more developed.

Photo Credit: Daimler/Car2Go

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