Manufacturing News

BMW expands car-sharing program to China

BMW will launch its first permanent car-sharing program in China next month using a fleet of electric i3 models, the company said.

The program in Chengdu, southwest China, expands the automaker's ReachNow brand outside the United States where it was launched in in 2016. It follows a successful pilot program in Beijing.

BMW claims more than one million users for its European DriveNow car-sharing service run in partnership with the Sixt car rental company, up from half a million in 2015. It also says the business is now profitable.

With its wholly-owned ReachNow service in China, BMW hopes to grow its business as the government restricts private car sales to tackle urban congestion and air pollution.

"Growth in the future won't come from building and selling cars but from other services," said Thiemo Schalk, manager at BMW's Center of Urban Mobility Competence in Berlin. "We need to find new solutions that are not just based on car ownership."

The Chengdu service initially will use 100 vehicles. Customers will not have to park them in fixed locations when they are finished with them. This is different from the Beijing program, which required customers to return cars to one of three stations.

'Free-floating' parking has been a stumbling point for car-sharing programs in cities with limited parking, but Schalk said Chengdu’s municipal government was eager for this to form part of the program. "They really wanted to make it happen," he said at an event held by BMW in Shanghai in November.

City residents in China have become used to bicycle-sharing services that lack fixed return locations.

EV sharing also has boomed within China in recent years, as domestic automakers produced fleets of small, inexpensive electric cars.

SAIC and GoFun, for example, operate the EVCard program, which is part of the Beijing Shouqi Group leasing company. BMW said it planned to bring a premium element to car-sharing.

Schalk said BMW DriveNow currently has a fleet of 6,000 cars in 13 cities in Europe, of which 15 percent are i3s. Its ReachNow operation in the U.S. uses 1,400 BMW and Mini cars in three cities.

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