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Changing the car-rental business, one minute at a time
Add Time:2013-9-22Source:David K GibsonHits:2247

Car2go is an urban car-share concept conceived by Daimler Mobility. It is an idea that has put a total 7,000 of Daimler’s Smart Fortwo cars in 22 cities worldwide, with Milan being the latest. They’ve also signed up 375,000 people who, for a minimal membership fee (€19 in Europe, $35 in the US and Canada), can take one of those cars for a spin any time they like. It’s a pay-by-the-minute (€0.29 per minute, to be precise), fully self-serve car rental option, based on the ability to of smartphone apps to find a nearby Fortwo. As with other car-sharing services, including BMW’sDriveNow and Volkswagen’s Quicar, Car2go members merely swipe a card against the reading device mounted inside the windshield of a parked car, enter a PID code in the dash display, grab the key from the glovebox and they’re on their way. It’s a micro car rental solution, in more ways than one – though one aimed, from conception, towards urban dwellers, not tourists.

For the traveller in Europe, however,Car2go seems like an ideal solution – particularly with Milan sweetening a list that contains Amsterdam, London and Berlin. Trains between European cities are exceptional and usually deliver their chargers right to the heart of downtown. From there, a quick taxi to a hotel, a metro rail to other parts of the city and then – in the interest of exploring a city in the ambling way tourists are so comfortable – a ride in a medieval-village-friendly Smart car for jaunts to obscure restaurants, hidden plazas and other slices of life viewed through the driver’s side window.

It shouldn’t surprise that car rental powerhouse Europcar is a 25% shareholder in Car2go. The company’s current ad slogan, “Moving your way”, is consistent with a business philosophy of being close to customers’ mobility needs. Fabrizio Ruggiero, CEO of Europcar Italy, says the company encourages a kind of “virtuous cross-selling.”

“For example,” he says, “one of our incoming customers, arriving in Milan and meaning to visit the city for a few days before he takes his Europcar vehicle for a tour in the peninsula, might take advantage of the Car2go while staying downtown.” It’s also easy; there’s a Car2go drop-off location near every Europcar office in Milan, and Car2go members receive a 15% discount off Europcar’s best daily rates.

So, should a Car2go member from Austin, or Miami, or Seattle book a flight for a European sojourn? Not so fast.

Currently, city-to-city roaming is only allowed within a single country. If a driver wants to rent in Vienna, or Milan, or Ulm (yeah, Ulm), documentation must be presented in each country. For Italy, that means a driver’s license that is valid in the country, a passport, a mailing address, a credit card and a mobile number, and those documents will have to be physically verified at a Car2go office. Additionally, making a switch from Car2go to Europcar – while logistically simple thanks to dedicated Car2go parking near most Europcar offices – requires a new round of paperwork, and possibly different documentation. In short, call before you go.

But there are inklings of changes, faint promises of international registration and glimpses of a glorious world to come, in which a card in the wallet can be used to quickly access a car anywhere in the world.

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