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The Country That Invented The Car Is Now One Of The World’s Biggest Users Of Car Sharing

In Germany, the place where driving is considered an art form, car ownership is suddenly a lot less sexy.

The Country That Invented The Car Is Now One Of The World’s Biggest Users Of Car Sharing
[Image: Germany roadways via Photo360 / Shutterstock]

In Germany, where the car was invented and nicknamed the country’s “favorite child,” things are changing: Fewer people are buying cars, and the country is now the world’s biggest user of one-way car-sharing plans.

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Over 750,000 German drivers now have a membership with a car-sharing service. Of the 8.5 million one-way car-share trips booked around the globe last year, almost half happened in Germany.

Big manufacturers like Daimler and BMW may have once seen car-sharing as obvious competition, but a few years ago, they decided to enter the market themselves. That’s been one reason for the growth in popularity.

“They did a lot of advertising, and they did it at a scale that isn’t possible for smaller firms,” says Gabi Lambrecht from the German car-sharing organization bcs. “And they had the power to bring a lot of cars into a city in one go, which smaller companies cannot do either.”

In the past, traditional car-sharing companies in the country only offered service at stations–you had to pick up a car and return it in the same place. That’s the case with most car sharing in the United States, too. But new services are more convenient, letting people find a nearby car with a mobile app and then drop it off anywhere. That has added to the growth.

Car sharing is expected to become even more popular there. Younger Germans, like millennials around the world, are less and less interested in owning cars. “The generation that thinks of the car as something like freedom is starting to get too old to drive,” says Lambrecht. “The younger ones think that because of traffic and the hassle of insurance and repairs, it’s much easier to have a car now and then, and do most of your daily trips by bike or walking.”

The shift may have more to do with convenience, or people not wanting to spend the money on a car, than environmental reasons. As the larger car companies have blanketed Germany with advertising, they haven’t talked about being green.

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“They don’t talk about it as an eco-friendly way of commuting,” says Lambrecht. “They even ran a commercial where they showed a packed subway or bus and said ‘This isn’t nice. Get the nice little car on your own.’ They try to position themselves as an alternative to public transport, which is something station-based car sharing would never do.”

Still, whatever the motivations, the transition away from car ownership to sharing is clearly happening. And Germany is not alone–in the U.S., car-sharing memberships grew by about 25% last year, and that’s not even counting peer-to-peer car-sharing services like RelayRides or Getaround. One-way car-sharing services are also just starting to make their appearance here, too.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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