BMW's DriveNow Car Sharing Gets Popular With One-Way Trips

By · August 12, 2013

ActiveE for DriveNow

Seventy of BMW's ActiveEs are in service in San Francisco as car-share vehicles. (BMW photo)

San Francisco is an EV-friendly city, and that’s why BMW chose to launch its DriveNow car-sharing program there with a fleet of all-electric cars, 70 ActiveEs that share a drivetrain with the soon-to-arrive i3 city vehicle. It’s car-sharing with a big advantage: You can do one-way travel, which really adds to the convenience factor.

Now, more than a year after the June 2012 launch, DriveNow (allied with ChargePoint for recharging) has 1,600 members in the Bay Area. According to Rich Steinberg, a longtime BMW EV leader who now serves as CEO of DriveNow USA, the company has 17 or 18 locations around San Francisco and Oakland. These include SFO and Oakland airports, two spots at the Google main campus in Mountain View, a location close to the Caltrans station in Palo Alto, three in Union Square, three in the Financial District, and two at Fisherman’s Wharf. (Expansion into Berkeley might be a good idea, given that it's a green epicenter.)

Launched in Europe

The service was started in Germany, where DriveNow is in four cities, partnered with Sixt AG (a European car rental company. It should be profitable in Europe this year, BMW said. “They’re getting close to black ink,” Steinberg said.

ActiveE for DriveNow

Find, or reserve, your DriveNow BMW ActiveE via cellphone app. (BMW photo)

Steinberg said BMW chose the Bay Area because it’s EV-friendly and (like Europe) understands car sharing. The San Francisco operation bears more than a little resemblance to the Mercedes-owned Car2Go network in San Diego, which exclusively runs the earlier generation of Smart Electric Drive—300 of them. And Car2Go also offers one-way service.

That arrangement was something of a marriage of convenience, because Daimler had a large fleet of older, U.S.-spec Smart EDs that were hard to lease.
BMW’s operation is somewhat different, in that the company put 700 ActiveEs into test fleets, and reserved another 70 for the San Francisco endeavor.

A Sedan Might Have Been Better

The ActiveE might not be the most practical vehicle for an exclusive car-sharing franchise (it has two doors and a relatively small back seat) but it seats four and is more versatile than the two-seat Smart.

DriveNow is fairly simple, with the one-way trips a big selling point. Steinberg said that airport runs (to SFO and Oakland) are a popular option for corporate clients, costing approximately $12 either way.

Members pay a one-time $39 for membership. “They’re issued an ID card that acts as a key,” Steinberg said. “And they can reserve cars on the phone or via their desktop. They find the car via a cellphone app, swipe the RFID-enabled card, and enter a PIN number and answer some personal questions. Once they’re in, it’s $12 for the first half hour, then 32 cents a minute. If they go out to dinner or something like that and keep the car, it’s 13 cents a minute while it’s parked.”

Expansion Plans?

Steinberg said it’s too soon to say if DriveNow will expand to other U.S. cities (it seems likely it will, since the similar Car2Go has expanded wildly) or add other cars beyond the ActiveEs. The German operations feature a gamut of BMW offerings, including Minis and even the M3 and M6.

If demand warrants it, BMW will expand the 70-car fleet, Steinberg said. An easy solution would be to put some of the 700 test-fleet ActiveE into service, because they’re coming off their leases in the next seven or eight months. But Steinberg said no decision had been reached on those cars.

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