I was invited to travel to Holland last month to learn about a new network of all-electric cars that just rolled out in both Amsterdam and San Diego on the 18th by Car2Go, a subsidiary of Daimler, maker of the Mercedes Benz. The Car2Go model places a huge emphasis on making things as easy as possible for customers and has already been tested (albeit with conventional gas motors) in cities like Austin, Texas; Vancouver; Lyon, France; and the German cities of Ulm and Hamburg. Car2Go members can pick up a car by either reserving one online (after finding it on the Car2Go website) or just walking up to one on the street. Unlike other car share services like Zip Car and Ucarshare, Car2Go customers don't need to drop it off where they got it — anywhere within a designated zone is fair trade for a drop off.
Throw in per-minute pricing and a dense saturation of cars (there are 300 cars to start in both Amsterdam and San Diego) and you get an extremely easy-to-use and convenient way around town. Being able to drop the cars off wherever is most convenient for the drivers is a hugely beneficial feature that I expect the other car share services will have to match to stay competitive. It beautifully bridges the gap between the ease and convenience of personal car ownership and the financial and environmental savings of public transportation.
Here's a good video that explains how it works.
While I was in Amsterdam I attended a news conference and heard more about the Car2Go program from company CEO Robert Henrich. Henrich can be credited with the founding of the services — while working at Daimler in a division tasked with exploring next-generation business models, he developed and championed the idea that grew into Car2Go.
The small frame of the Car2Go electric car is a good fit for the narrow streets of Amsterdam.
Last year I visited the Mercedes Benz museum in Stuttgart, Germany, and spent some time in one of the company's design studios and came away with the impression that the company has a realistic view of the future of the car and where they want to be in it. We are moving away from the idea of everyone owning their own car and towards more flexible models like car sharing and better public transportation. The people at Dailmer seem to recognizes this and are working to make sure they can survive the transition.
After the news conference, I hopped in one of the Car2Go electric cars and took it for a spin around the city. Thankfully I had a guide in the car with me, though I probably would have been OK with the in-dash GPS system. Then again, the Amsterdam streets are designed to make it inconvenient to drive (one-way streets everywhere), so it was nice to have a local to help me get around. The car drives great and has plenty of pep and snap. I didn't get a chance to get out on the highway, so I can't speak to the top speed of the car, but it handled in-city driving like a champ.
The car's interface is easy and intuitive to use.
The cars get around 80 miles between charges. When a car gets below a 25 percent charge, the system is notified and members are given the incentive of some free time for plugging it into a station. Car2Go estimates that anywhere from five to 10 customers will be able to run trips between the car needing a charge.
Car2Go has big plans for the program and recently announced a partnership with a car rental company to expand into 40 to 50 cities in Europe. I spoke with Car2Go North America CEO Nicholas Cole recently (interview will be published shortly) who confirmed that they are looking to roll out to additional American and Canadian cities in 2012, though he was mum on where exactly.
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