BMW will launch a four-wheeled rival to the ‘Boris Bike’, CAR can reveal, when its grab-and-go car hire scheme launches in London by early 2015.
DriveNow, BMW’s joint venture with rental company Sixt, will deploy cars at strategic points on the capital’s streets.
How BMW's DriveNow scheme will work in London
The electric i3 city car will be the star of the London initiative, bulked out by Mini and 1-series cars which underpin similar operations in five German cities which pioneered DriveNow.
The scheme is part of BMW’s reimagination of itself as a mobility services provider, happy to hire cars as well as sell them. In Germany, DriveNow members pay a €29 registration fee, then they can rent cars off the street paying fees a little cheaper than hiring a London taxi. Cars are located, reserved and unlocked with a smartphone app, free to tank up (with a special refueling card) which qualifies the driver for a free mileage bonus, and with an amnesty from the capital’s highly motivated parking wardens and its congestion charge. Billing is automated.
It sounds fabulously convenient for occasional car users, students and business people on a visit to the capital, but it’s a logistical nightmare to set up. London has 32 different boroughs providing local government; DriveNow is only expecting to launch with a handful of them, most likely including Haringey and Hackney. ‘That’s where BMW thinks the greatest market potential is,’ said a source close to the project. And talks continue with the critical central council, Westminster, ‘to get the scheme into the heart of the city’.
Why the BMW i3 could become the rental car of choice in London
With local authorities increasingly focused on local air quality, BMW’s i3 electric car will be a standard bearer for London’s latest car hire club. ‘[Having a zero emissions car] is a key element, a condition for being able to do this,’ said our source.
DriveNow users will be able to take the car out of the city, returning it by parking the car on any single line or resident’s parking bay in the appropriate boroughs.
The scheme is by no means a guaranteed success: Car2Go, a joint venture between BMW’s arch-rival Daimler and Europcar, pulled out of the UK market in May 2014. It operated in Birmingham and three London boroughs – Sutton, Islington and Newham – but withdrew after listening ‘closely to customer feedback and taking the UK’s strong culture and tradition of private ownership into account’.
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Some residents protested about Car2Go’s blue-and-white Smart cars blocking local parking spaces and seldom moving. ‘Car2Go was operating in the city’s periphery,’ said our source, who also believes some of the challenges around parking contributed to its demise.
Greater London is Europe’s only true megacity, with almost 10 million inhabitants at the last census. Demographers predict that 60% of the world’s population will live in vast, dense urban areas by the mid-2030s, posing big congestion and pollution challenges. BMW is trying to stay ahead of that trend with initiatives like DriveNow and the i3 and i8 EV and hybrid models, as well as funding ventures like Park at My House, where users rent out empty drives to commuters.
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