India’s growing urban middle class means that car ownership has been slowly rising, and, though many people can’t afford cars yet, the number of drivers is expected to keep growing. One snarl to that is congestion and lack of infrastructure: Traffic is already often a mess, and if you’re a car company, that’s not exactly a selling point to potential customers. Meanwhile, in richer countries, urban residents are becoming less and less interested in the hassles of owning a vehicle.
These conundrums are reasons why car manufacturers are in the early stages of experimenting with new models that fall somewhere between neighborhood rental services like Zipcar and buying a car outright. The idea is to facilitate car ownership not for individual households, but for small groups of people.
In Stockholm, Audi is already testing a “microsharing” plan that allows a small group of friends, coworkers, or even strangers to share a car for a year or two. An app and a keychain beacon help arrange scheduling and split the monthly bills according to usage.
And in Bangalore, Ford is about to embark on an early experiment in shared ownership, in partnership with the Indian car-sharing company Zoomcar. Like Audi, Ford’s concept would allow small groups, including friends, families, coworkers, and people who live in the same apartment complex, to share a vehicle among multiple drivers.
“There are a lot of people in India, and a lot of them can’t afford private car ownership yet. But many want access to vehicles,” says Ford’s global future mobility manager Erica Klampfl. “India is also a culture where people seem to be more receptive to sharing.”
She envisions an apartment complex with several shared cars within a fixed community, though Ford has many logistics to work out still. The company is currently developing the tools needed to manage things like vehicle scheduling and ownership costs, with the aim to launch a pilot with a small number of communities in Bangalore soon. The goals of the pilot include not only working out the technical details but also seeing how customers react and evaluating how such a service might impact Ford’s business in the future. If it goes well, it could expand, but that’s far from guaranteed.
The project, called Share-Car, is actually one of 25 mobility experiments announced by Ford in January that are meant to address global trends including population growth, an expanding middle class, environmental and health concerns, and changing “customer attitudes and priorities”–all of which are already challenging traditional car companies. As it seeks to adapt, Ford is even looking at an experiment with bicycles.
“We are really about looking to how we can be a part of all people’s mobility solution, whether or not they can buy a car, and make transportation more accessible to them,” says Klampfl.