GM Stations Chevrolet Bolts in Austin for Maven Ridesharing

One more sign the ridesharing economy is heating up, at least in cool cities: Austin landed a fleet of Chevrolet Bolts that will be used by rideshare drivers and deliveries, and they arrived just in time for the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. This may be a tune-up for a GM program that allows owners of GM cars to rent them out when they’re not in use. The common thread is Maven Gig, a sharing service.

Maven Gig launched in 2016 for Uber and Lyft drivers who didn’t have cars. They rent for $229 a week (starting price) for use of the car, insurance, maintenance, and charging.

Automakers Make Plans for Fewer Owned Cars

General Motors and Chevrolet are getting involved for a bunch of reasons, from the SXSW publicity to getting experience placing car fleets other than with Enterprise, Budget, and Avis. As Uber and Lyft services takes off — what college student or young urban professional doesn’t have a get-home-safely-when-I’m-drunk monthly budget item? — and hourly rentals become commonly available, automakers have to consider the possibility the US has peaked at 17-18 million annual sales and have to compete fiercely in a market of 15 million, maybe 12 or 10 million annual sales in the future.

Cars are also better built and last longer, so much so that JD Power and other survey houses start considering things like difficulty pairing Bluetooth, or brake dust, to be reliability or dependability issues.

GM Setting Up AirBnB for Cars?

According to a report by Bloomberg, General Motors this summer plans to extend Maven Gig to rent out cars hourly or daily, but in this case they’d be the cars of GM owners, not General Motors cars. Bloomberg says:

The pilot — which GM will try to grow into a full-fledged business if it’s successful — could mark another step forward in GM’s transition from manufacturer to mobility provider. After GM’s stock stagnated for years as investors fretted over peaking car sales and Silicon Valley’s offensive on the auto industry, the shares rose to a record high in October as its self-driving car plans and services like Maven gained traction with investors.

If this sounds scary for GM, remember than when IBM (most recently) reinvented itself, it effectively jettisoned much of its hardware business.

Maven Targets an EV-Centric Future for Gig Sharing

Maven Gig has already placed Bolt EVs in other cities. Maven Gig launched in fall 2017 in San Francisco for ride-hailing-service car drivers lacking cars. Then the company expanded to grocery and food delivery drivers. Maven is now in Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Maven reports that its fleet of electric vehicles has racked up almost 650,000 rideshare passengers. The Bolt has a 238-mile range; only 9 percent of daily trips exceeded that, meaning drivers used a different car or stopped to recharge. The Austin arrangement currently includes free recharges through the Austin Energy Plug-In EVerywhere and EVgo networks.

While Austin is one of the nation’s tech centers and friendly to startups, a feud drove Lyft and Uber out of town in 2016. They felt Austin was implementing requirements aimed at protecting local cab and town car services more than in keeping riders safe: payment requirements, vehicle identifiers, pick-up areas, and the biggie: fingerprint-based background checks. For its part, Austin may have felt the rideshare giants were heavy-handed. Eventually the state of Texas shot down the background checks part and Uber and Lyft came back 10 months ago.

Other GM Ventures in Shared Cars, Rides

GM has been involved in peer-to-peer car sharing for more than a half a decade. In 2012, it linked up with Relay Rides, now called Turo. GM had an early advantage because of its OnStar telematics system installed on most every car made this century. That allowed the owner to send an unlock code to the car when the driver show up carside. Since then, automakers with telematics are working on making your smartphone double as a car key.

Peer-to-peer sharing may also adversely affect the total cars sold in the future. So too will self-driving cars.