Why It’s Impossible to Rent a Car Right Now

Peer-to-peer car-sharing platforms are — cliché though it is — exactly like Airbnb for cars. But, unlike Airbnb, which is currently valued at $ 78.8 billion, car sharing has yet to take off — despite cars sitting idle 96 percent of the time. But now, with old-fashioned rentals expensive and hard to get hold of, car sharing might finally have its moment.

Xavier Collins, vice president of Truo, says that convenience is another benefit of going peer-to-peer, with many people able to find a car a short walk away rather than at a rental lot on the edge of town. That convenience is fine if you’re already in a city, but what about people flying in for a holiday? HiyaCar currently focuses on local renters rather than tourists, saying support for vacationers will hopefully be added this year, but the other two companies do target fliers. Getaround is working to get parking spots for its cars at transport hubs; in France, for example, it has dedicated spots near railway stations.

Truo takes it a step further. Cars are delivered directly to the arrivals zone at airports, with the owner either meeting renters with the keys or leaving the vehicle in airport parking, where it’s unlocked via the app.

Apps like Truo, Getaround, and HiyaCar have the same benefit as Airbnb and other so-called sharing-economy platforms: They don’t own anything. “The cars on the platforms don’t belong to the company,” says Even Heggernes, vice president at Getaround Europe. “The shortage of cars occurring everywhere is not something that really affects us.”

But that doesn’t mean these platforms have enough vehicles — in the UK, HiyaCar has 2,000 cars for its 150,000 registered users. Truo has 3,000 in the UK, while in the US, Getaround has 160,000. Sharing platforms rely on individuals letting strangers drive off in their car, which requires trust as well as effort to keep vehicles clean, full of petrol, and otherwise ready for renters. It’s a challenging ask, though Heggernes, whose job focuses on encouraging drivers to sign up — says supply has increased due to the cost-of-living crisis, with people seeking ways to make extra cash.

HiyaCar has one solution to the continued lack of supply: Top up the system with its own vehicles. With 150,000 registered users, HiyaCar has just 2,000 cars, of which 350 are part of its car club system. They are not owned by HiyaCar, but by carmakers, who are guaranteed a minimum income, and the aim is to fill in cars where there isn’t yet enough supply, what the company calls the “cold-start problem.”

“We have lots of demand but not enough cars,” says Rob Lamour, co-founder of HiyaCar. “You can’t just launch in an area and suddenly have loads of cars for people to hire; it takes time for it to build up. ” Car clubs are also set up in areas without enough vehicles in general, such as central London, where public transport might reduce car ownership but demand for ad hoc rentals remains high.

But traditional car rental companies aren’t sitting back and letting upstarts disrupt their market. Even before the pandemic, rental firms were lobbying for tighter regulation of the peer-to-peer market, demanding tighter vehicle checks and restrictions on drop-off zones in airports.

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