Car sharing firms cash in with diversified lineups

by Shinichi Tokuda

Kyodo

Car sharing services are getting popular, and one important reason is that more types of vehicles have become available, including imported luxury brands and sport utility vehicles.

One of the biggest selling points car sharing services offer over standard rental companies has been that they allow a vehicle to be used for as little as 10 or 15 minutes.

This, however, appears to be developing into a larger trend.

“In the past, our customers came to us for neighborhood shopping or picking up or dropping off their kids at cram school, but today more and more customers use our cars simply because they want to drive,” said Motoharu Uchitsu, director of the Times Car Plus car sharing promotion department at Times 24 Co.

Times 24, known for its ubiquitous hourly parking lots, is now the biggest provider of car sharing in Japan, a point it has reached by taking advantage of its network of paid parking across the country.

At the end of August, the Tokyo-based company had roughly 253,000 car sharing clients. The service boasts 6,735 cars at 4,414 locations.

Among the most popular models are luxury cars, including BMWs and Audis.

“There are many members in their 20s who take a ride in these cars to enjoy driving long distances,” Uchitsu said.

A 15-minute ride in a vehicle of that class costs ¥400, compared with ¥200 for a compact.

Anticipating further growth, Times 24 plans to raise availability to 10,000 vehicles by October 2014.

In January, it had about 289,500 people signed up, a roughly fourfold increase from two years ago, according to the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation.

Orix Auto Corp. has found success offering car sharing to companies who want to reduce the cost of maintaining their own fleets of cars.

“Even if the economy picks up, I don’t think their interest in a car sharing service will ever abate,” said Manabu Ikeda, head of the car sharing department at Orix Auto. “We’ll continue to aggressively sell our service.”

The Tokyo-based conglomerate said that a Smart car, a tiny EV by Germany’s Daimler, started being used by salespeople to visit clients in Osaka after it was added to its lineup at an office and shopping complex there in June.

Car Sharing Japan Co., which runs the Careco car sharing service in Tokyo, has meanwhile tied up with realtor Mitsui Fudosan Co.

Careco clients visiting the Mitsui Fudosan’s commercial complexes can park for free or get coupons to use at shops in the facilities.

Stressing that it deals with various types of vehicles, including hybrids, imports and SUVs, President Takanobu Murayama said he hopes variety proves to be the key in attracting more clients.

“I hope customers can select a type that fits their purpose and use it just like their private vehicle,” he said.