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You don't need to own a car to be a motorist

Users of car-sharing programs check the availability of vehicles through mobile apps. Once a car is selected, it can be unlocked via smartphone. Payment is made online.

Car-sharing, which allows people to rent vehicles for a short period, has taken off in China after the concept was first introduced in Europe and the US.

By the end of 2016, there were about 30 car-sharing companies in China, operating 30,000 vehicles. The concept is especially popular in big cities like Shanghai, where owning a car can be problematical: getting a license plate is difficult and expensive, and parking a vehicle overnight is a nightmare.

“It’s much cheaper than taking a taxi,” Zhang Xiaojie, who works at the East China Science and Technology Journal said of the EVCARD app of Shanghai-based Global Carsharing & Rental Co, the largest car-sharing company in the city.

“It takes me 40 minutes to drive 15 kilometers to work,” he said. “The 20 yuan (US$ 2.90) cost is reasonable, when you consider that a taxi would cost me 60 yuan. And I can drive to Pudong International Airport for 45 yuan instead of spending 200 yuan on a taxi.”

Users of car-sharing programs check the availability of vehicles through mobile apps. Once a car is selected, it can be unlocked via smartphone. Payment is made online.

Service providers are trying to make car-sharing even more attractive to users.

TOGO, a Beijing-based company that entered the Shanghai market recently, provides a “free-floating” service that allows users to drop off a shared car at their destination instead of returning it to the point of departure.

“It is the first company to provide such a service in Shanghai,” said David Zhang, an independent automotive consultant. “After using the car, people can park it at any parking lot in the city.”

TOGO, founded in July 2015, has around 350 shared cars in operation in Shanghai. They can be accessed at popular spots, including People’s Square, Joy City and Huaihai Road. The cars are both green models as well as gasoline versions of the Mercedes-Benz Smart and Roewe e550.

Shen Liang was among the first to hire a car through TOGO.

“I was able to return the car to a parking lot near my destination,” she said of the Roewe e550, which she drove from Joy City in the Jing’an District to Jiashan Road in Xuhui District to have a weekend lunch with friends.

Consumers use car-share services for commuting to work, business trips and recreational outings.

“Car-sharing users in Shanghai are mainly office workers and business travelers who are between 30 and 35 years old,” said Ye Sheng, auto research director at market research firm Ipsos. “They use car-sharing services mainly for work purposes.”

That’s one reason why electric-car rental company EVCARD has placed so many shared vehicles near office buildings, high-tech parks and major transportation hubs in Shanghai. Popular sites are Zhangjiang High-Tech Park, the office building in Wheelock Square, Pudong and Hongqiao airports, and major railway stations.

That’s not to say car-sharing is all smooth driving.

Some users have complained that the cars they pick up are damaged or have operating malfunctions because people returning cars often don’t report problems.

“I once drove a shared car to work, and on the way, I discovered that a tire was flat,” said Zhang Xiaojie. “I had to stop and change to another car, losing a half day at work.”

Others complain that it’s sometimes difficult to find a convenient car.

“The pool of cars available is still too small,” said Yang Xing, who works for a public relations firm. “It’s frustrating when there are no cars near my home. In addition, I have to pay a deposit of 1,500 yuan before I can rent a car, and it takes 20 days to get my money refunded.”

Nonetheless, the number of car-sharing services is on the increase. The market is expected to grow by 50 percent a year, according to a report by PwC’s Strategy&.

“The number of shared cars in Shanghai is expected to double this year,” said Fang Yan, principal with the consulting firm.

Among the major players are Global Carsharing & Rental, which deploys electric cars as a green incentive, German carmaker Daimler’s Car2Share program, and Shouqi Group’s Gofun Chuxing.

All the providers say they plan to expand.

“At present, there are about 6,000 shared cars in Shanghai, operated by more than six companies,” said consultant David Zhang. “The number of shared cars is going to increase this year, mainly driven by the growth of EVCARD and the emergence of new players in the market.”

At the end of 2016, Global Carsharing & Rental said it had 2,556 service spots in Shanghai with more than 5,000 shared cars.

“We will continue to develop our car sharing network this year,” said Lu Zheguang, director of marketing and brand management at the company. “We will have 10,000 electric cars and 4,500 service spots in operation in Shanghai.”

TOGO marketing manager Kelvin Luo said his company will have 800 share cars in Shanghai.”

How to use car sharing:

1. Download a car sharing app on your smartphone and sign up

2. Take a photo of your driving license, upload it and wait for validation. Foreigners need to upload a Chinese driving license instead of a foreign or international license.

3. Enter payment information and pay a deposit which is refundable.

4. Check available cars nearby and make a reservation.


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