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Car sharing: a new form of “public transport”

BEIJING – Ride sharing is booming in China as a new way of public transportation. For example, Didi, as the largest one-stop transportation platform in the world, crossed the 10 million-mark in the number of rides in a single day in March, more than what Uber does globally. Car sharing, which is different from ride sharing, is also becoming an emerging market for mobility.

During the Monthly Automotive Salon (MAS) held by CBU/CAR on April 13 with a theme of Personal Mobility in the Digital Age: The Impact of Car Sharing, Yu Tao, CEO of Soda Mobility, and Fu Cong, COO of yiduyongche.com, spoke about their respective EV rental-by-the-hour platforms. They also shared their perspectives on the future development of the two companies.

As a technological innovation company focusing on smart vehicle and intelligent-mobility solutions, Soda Mobility has proven technique on telematics, car-sharing solution and data-driven Saas platform. Soda is building the platform to power the Next Mobility. It is driving the internet of vehicle (IOV) and pushing the pulse of next mobility with the power of big data, the mobile internet and innovation of cooperative economy.

“Smart, Open, Disruptive and Automobile/Applications’ are the four features of Soda,” said Yu. 

According to the CEO, users can find nearby connected cars via the Soda app on their smart phones and check information of the selected car and get there via pedestrian navigation. Virtual Key solution allows the user to unlock the vehicle via the app. At the same time, the user can lock and unlock the door temporarily via wearable devices such as the Apple watch. It is convenient that users can check out their Soda journey via online payment. Soda supports popular e-payment platforms including Wechat, AliPay, Apple Pay and Paypal as well. “Pay by minutes, Pay as you drive” is the slogan of Soda.

The enterprise, which is focusing on the professional segment, is also trying to join the mass market and get power of Eco-system by cooperation, according to Yu. The cooperation between AVIS and Soda that was established in March shows the change of the access for car using. Soda cooperates with AVIS to explore domestic and international markets with the vision of ‘SMART x Vehicle as a Service’.

The “one Soda car, seven less private cars” concept was repeatedly mentioned by Yu in his presentation. According to Soda, one sharing car can replace 5-13 private cars in major cities, and the number in Beijing is seven, indicating car sharing is an excellent method to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

According to Yu, the local government is encouraging EV sharing since the concept is identical with the government’s desire to promote EVs. But the establishment and infrastructure is still a challenge for the business.

Founded in May 2015 in Beijing, Beijing Yiduyongche Information Technology Co., Ltd. provides EV rental-by-the-hour service where customers can rent EVs simply through a smart phone app. The service currently covers core business districts in Beijing including Wangjing, Zhongguancun, Shangdi and Guomao and is also expanding to other parts of the city.

Company COO Fu Cong told the audience that Yidu means one degree of electricity, which can drive a car for 10 km. People in Beijing commute for 10 km on average every day, so one degree of electricity can solve the problem of daily travel. Yidu also means “once” in Chinese, which means although you once owned a car, you do not need to own a car now since car sharing is available. Yidu currently has 300 cars in its fleet and almost all are BAIC EV160 models. Yidu has more than 200 service spots in Beijing with 200,000 members. One Yidu car now averages 3.5 orders a day and runs 75 km or 10 hours daily. Each member orders Yidu cars four times per month on average, according to statistics of Beijing Transportation Information Center (BTIC), a government institution. “There are only 1.4 people on average in one single car in Beijing,” said Fu. According to a seven-month test, most people intend to try car sharing, and this niche market has huge market potential. According to a survey conducted by Yidu last year, people spent 60 hours in traffic per month, which make the segment a profitable market.

By yearend, Yidu plans to increase the scale of its fleet in Beijing to 3,000 vehicles. It will also apply the Auto Robot, which means a robot drives people from point A to point B in the future. Yidu wants to expand its business rapidly all over China by establishing a very strong platform with operational system and related experiences.

According to Fu, BTIC once wanted to do car sharing themselves, but eventually they gave up the idea because the operation was too complicated, with so many details to coordinate, like operating cars, delivering cars to users, etc., which are not things a government should be doing. In return they asked the car sharing companies to do the work. Important business aspects like parking lots, roadside parking permits are the major challenges and Fu suggested the government support the business through various measures.

“In order to start our business fast and smoothly, we tend to choose local EV brands to gain the support of local governments. For example in Beijing we decided to work with BAIC,” said Fu. Fortunately, the cars proved themselves after seven months of operation. The same policy applies to other cities, so SAIC would become Yidu’s partner in Shanghai and GAC in Guangzhou, according to Fu.

Yidu also plans to provide high-end EVs from brands like BMW and Tesla for frequent users with high mileage and good credit in the future. The company will also develop some higher quality services for these customers.

Fu is very confident about the prospect of car sharing compared with that of traditional car rental providers. For example, a three-hour and 25-30 km range costs ¥180 ($27.7) per day plus fuel at China Auto Rental, however it only costs ¥25-¥30 on Yidu. 

As all cars in Yidu obtained insurance, car damages caused by users are covered. “Luckily, of the 200,000 orders we have had, there was only one accident, since EVs are slow and not built for highways and travel at low speeds,” said Fu. Yidu is also considering using smaller cars with same mobility to solve problems such as congestion.

The next user of the car and checking crews will all report about daily scratches, if any, and users that damage cars for three times will be put onto a “blacklist” and they will no longer be able to rent cars on the platform again.

“Daily income per car of Yidu just reached ¥140 per day, it is not a very big number, but we think it is a profitable market in the future and we welcome all sorts of investment,” said Fu.

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