In the last few years, General Motors has placed big bets on the future of how people get around. For instance, it has acquired the self-driving car startup Cruise, and it kickstarted a car-sharing platform called Maven. This summer, the auto manufacturer moved beyond renting its own cars to renting out those of its customers. Maven initially offered peer-to-peer car sharing in Detroit, Chicago, and Denver. Now it’s expanding to Ann Arbor, Michigan; Baltimore; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Jersey City; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.
That’s some fast growth–Maven is only two years old, after all. But Julia Steyn, vice president of mobility at General Motors, says she has to move quickly to create the future she believes her customers want.
“The biggest trend around all of this is that folks want to eliminate all the waste out of their lives,” says Steyn. In building out a marketplace for cars, she says she has focused on “access over ownership.” She wants consumers to see General Motors as a brand that provides transportation when they need it and on their terms, rather than just a purveyor of cars.
Maven is a big piece of that rebrand.
When the platform first rolled out, it was to all appearances a Zipcar competitor. GM set up fleets of cars on university campuses and within residential buildings that could be rented for as little as an hour. It then expanded beyond parking lots and onto streets, competing more directly with services like Car2Go. Roughly 10 months after the platform’s debut, General Motors launched Maven Gig, a rental car program designed specifically for people who needed a car to work shifts on platforms like Uber, Lyft, HopSkipDrive, Grubhub, or Instacart.
The general rental platform is now available in 17 markets, while Maven Gig is in nine of them. Over the last year and five months, the general user base has grown from 20,000 people to over 190,000.
The future is sharing
Early on, Maven seemed like a prelude to a ride-hailing service for self-driving cars. GM is currently developing autonomous vehicles through Cruise, which it acquired in 2016. Spectators believed the car-sharing service was basically an opportunity for the auto manufacturer to develop a direct relationship with consumers. But as the immediate promise of self-driving cars has started to fade across the mobility space, car sharing now seems less like a stepping stone to the future of transportation and more like the future itself.
Car sharing is expected to take off. Global Market Insights estimates that the global car-sharing market will surpass $11 billion by 2024, propelled in part by promotion from major governments hoping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Two other data points have some heralding the “death of car ownership.” Between 2007 and 2012, car ownership declined. During that same period, companies like Uber and Lyft started to offer alternative visions for how transportation should work.
Still, the eulogies may have come too soon. Though car sales are down in the United States, more people are buying lightweight trucks, according to data from the Wall Street Journal. Overall, vehicles sales are up 6% from a year ago. And car ownership has been on the rise for the last four years, according to a 2018 study from the University of Michigan.
Although car ownership may not be dead, car sharing may still thrive–even if it’s not for everyone. The people Steyn is courting are hustlers who want to make money off their idle assets. She thinks there’s lot of room for growth there.
“I think there’s a phenomenal opportunity when you talk about people putting fleets of vehicles on the marketplace,” she says. “Let’s say I have five trucks and I use them from 1-5 p.m., and when I don’t use them, I put them on the platform for someone else to use as they please.” Suddenly, small business owners and independent contractors have a new way to make money after they hang up their hats.
Regardless of whether car ownership dies or lives on, GM has already figured out how to monetize its cars long after they roll off the lot.