According to the research firm Frost & Sullivan, the number of members using car-sharing services is expected to increase almost threefold from roughly 6m in 2017 to almost 18m by 2025, with the US expected to have the lion’s share of these at 10m.
Niranjan Thiyagarajan, senior consultant at Monitor Deloitte, said the rise of car-sharing would be driven by urbanisation and the increasing cost of transportation.
“Congested cities, with increased traffic and pollution, penalise car ownership while customers are encouraged to use public transport,” he says. “Car-sharing sits in a niche between the two and is able to offer the comforts of private transport with the flexibility and economies of scale, driven by a sharing model.”
Accounting and consultancy behemoth EY announced in August the launch of its Tesseract platform, which is aimed at promoting various methods of sharing vehicles.
At present the only two models that exist are peer-to-peer, whereby people rent an individual’s car via a website, such as easyCar, or renting cars owned by hire companies for an hourly rate, such as Zipcar.
Mr Simlett notes the Norwegian capital Oslo has pledged to ban private cars from its city centre by 2020 and that a move such as this replicated in other major urban centres could propel vehicle-sharing. London has embraced car-pooling more than any other UK city so far, for various reasons from parking restrictions in the capital through to the rising expense of car ownership.
Richard Laughton, the chief executive of easyCar, says the strongest growth in his business more recently has come from its peer-to-peer rental division ahead of its other business, acting as an aggregator for third-party car hire companies at airports. The company posted pre-tax profits of more than £1m in 2016 and expects that this could grow by as much as 25pc this year.
He reckons that the country’s changing demographic make-up is a “key driver” for car-sharing, given more people, particularly in cities, are delaying the purchase of a car. Half its peer-to-peer members are in London, with the remainder spread across cities such as Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds and Glasgow.
“A growing number of cars are on some form of finance now too, which shows people are used to the idea of not owning one,” he states.
He also noted that, while renting out houses or rooms within them is something many are familiar with, “renting out your car is a bit new, so there is a behavioural shift we have to encourage”.
Yet more evidence that private car ownership could be peaking is the growing interest of the car manufacturers in the sharing sector.
Giants including Daimler, Toyota, Peugeot, Volkswagen and BMW have all invested in the sector recently cognisant of the fact it could be a key purchaser of cars in decades to come and that they ignore the burgeoning trend at their peril. Just last month, Daimler led a $92m (£69m) fundraising drive by San Francisco-based Turo, one of the largest peer-to-peer car rental companies in Silicon Valley.
Deloitte’s Mr Thiyagarajan said the “biggest threat” to car producers from car-sharing was that it reduces ownership. “Carmakers have a clear choice – contribute to the car-sharing industry in an attempt to hedge their bets or ignore it completely and run the risk of losing out on car sales with no experience and understanding of how to sell into the car-sharing industry,” he says.
EasyCar’s Mr Laughton also said his company was having “very early stage” discussions with carmakers about potential collaborations. Such deals could be a useful way for carmakers to sell their newer electric – and possibly, in the future, autonomous – cars, which are likely to initially be too expensive for many individuals. Securing a customer base for such things as electric vehicles also makes sense, especially in light of the announcement by Paris just last week that it wants to banish petrol and diesel cars from its centre by 2030.
Mr Thiyagarajan points out that electric vehicles would appeal to car-sharing companies’ agendas due to them being greener and more economical. “We are already seeing a number of hybrid options (VW Golf hybrid with ZipCar) and fully electric vehicles (BMW i3 in DriveNow) penetrating fleets.”
Zipcar’s Mr Hampson says there is an incentive for carmakers to get their models into car-sharing companies’ inventories for when car-share users become owners.
Carplus, an independent charity which monitors the car-sharing industry, says in its 2016-17 survey that 18% of the car club fleet in London is electric or hybrid.
Its data also shows that in the past 10 years there has been a 765% growth in car club membership across the UK from 32,000 members in 2007-8 to more than 245,000 members in 2016-17, using more than 4,000 cars. During the same period, more than 250,000 privately owned cars have been sold by club members who have adopted vehicle sharing.
Developments within the car-sharing industry are also likely to hasten the adoption of the service. Jonathan Hampson, Zipcar’s general manager in the UK, said his firm had recently launched a one-way service whereby users could start and end their hire in different locations.
“We think one-way trips will be a bigger part of our growth,” he predicts. “It is more difficult to organise and what it has required is for London boroughs to let us park our cars anywhere.”
“Our target is to have the largest keyless fleet in the UK,” said chief executive Graeme Risby.
And easyCar’s Mr Laughton is trialling a scheme with fewer than 100 of its best renters whereby the individuals buy a second car and the company pledges to guarantee a return for them on their investment.
With money flowing into the sector at home and abroad and companies including easyCar eyeing international expansion, car-sharing could finally be getting out of first gear.