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The dream of electric-car sharing services died in 2019

The experiment to offer battery-electric vehicles by the day or hour is mostly done. Companies such as BlueIndy, Maven, and ShareNow pulled the plug in 2019. These companies, launched with enthusiasm just a couple of years ago, were based on the idea that urban consumers would be eager to access (rather than own) a zero-emissions vehicle for local travel. But the operational costs and complicated logistics outweighed the interest in fledgling services. Maybe people want a private EV after all.

Indianapolis-based BlueIndy was the latest EV-sharing firm to fall. Two weeks ago, the company announced it will cease operations – after about 11,000 members took around 180,000 rides over four years. Company officials said the service did not have enough activity to remain “economically viable.” Local media reported that consumers found the service difficult to use and that customer support was lacking.

“Indianapolis drivers have been slow to adopt alternative transportation options, and car ownership remains extremely high.”

The service used the small four-seat Bolloré Bluecar with a 30-kilowatt-hour battery pack. The cars were offered in different payment plans, including $9.99 a month and $4 for 20 minutes, then $0.20 per minute.

City officials are now exploring how to utilize the EV charging infrastructure that was built to support the fleet, which had grown to more than 280 electric cars. The Indy Star reported that the project cost about $50 million. BlueIndy was owned by French transport company Bolloré Logistics, based outside Paris.

BMW i3 ReachNow

A few days before BlueIndy called it quits, ShareNow ­– formerly Car2Go, which had merged with ReachNow ­– said it was ceasing North American operations.

In July, BMW’s ReachNow, which made small vehicles including the i3 available, ceased operations in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. Daimler’s Car2Go previously offered shared Smart electric cars in several US cities.

Daimler and BMW, which own the ShareNow service, blamed the “volatile state of the global mobility industry” and high costs. It’s been less than a year since Daimler and BMW said it would spend $1.13 billion to expand ride-hailing, electric scooters, car-sharing, and electric-car charging.

Earlier this year, General Motors’s Maven service terminated electric car-sharing service in eight major US cities, including New York and Chicago.

When Maven launched in 2017, it made Chevrolet Bolt electric cars available for $229 a week, including insurance. Drivers also get free charging at EVgo charging stations. The idea was to make the EVs easier to adopt for Uber and Lyft drivers.

GM said it was shifting Maven’t focus on markets with the strongest growth potential. The service is now primarily peer-to-peer car sharing.

The last EV-sharing company standing appears to be Gig, which is owned by AAA Northern California, Nevada, and Utah. In May, the car-sharing service deployed 260 electric Chevy Bolt cars in Sacramento, with the support from Electrify America (as part of the Volkswagen diesel settlement).

Users can join for free and are charged 40 cents per minute, $15 per hour, or $85 per day, whichever is lowest for that trip. The rate covers expenses like fuel (charging), insurance, and parking.

“Adoption has been faster than expected,” said Jason Haight, Gig’s president.

Electrek’s Take

The big promise for novel mobility options doesn’t always pan out. It’s going to take a lot of experimentation and more than a few failures.

After years of buzz about alternative ownership models – like dynamic shuttles, subscriptions, and EV-sharing by the hour or mile – we haven’t yet seen a business model that works. The compelling evidence so far suggests that private car ownership is not going away as quickly as once thought, despite benefits such as reduced congestion and emissions.

Of course, we’re only at the beginning of the giant shift to electric, autonomous, and shared mobility. The lessons from 2019 will be learned and, hopefully, applied to more successful alternative ownership models for EVs.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.