“CAR21″: A Thinking Exercise (or New Ways of Owning and Using Cars in the 21st Century)

From the World Carshare Consortium:  I would like to offer a “thought experiment” with anyone here who may wish to jump in with their ideas. criticism and/or proposals — or perhaps only to pull up a chair and see what happens in a case like this. The short story is that I would like to see what, if anything, happens with a simple change of title and focus for this group — the World Carshare consortium at http//worldcarshare.com + http://www.facebook.com/groups/worldcarshare/ + http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WorldCarShare — which for almost 15 years now has been focusing its attention on the varieties of carsharing that are fast multiplying and taking an increasingly important role in the mobility options of people in cities around the world.  Carsharing has a brilliant, in many ways surprising and certainly very different future, which in fact is already well in process.  But there is more to our story than that.

Rethinking Cars. . .or The Future of the Car in the City

It’s soon 2013, the 20th century is suddenly long behind us, and life stubbornly refuses to stand still for us.  So let’s see if we can make sure not to be left behind here.

In our immediate context here, we have decided to see what happens if we play around for a bit with the idea of introducing a strategic extension of the title and coverage of this long standing collaborative forum (since 1998), to better reflect the reality of what is in fact taking place on the streets of our cities, and in the lives of an increasing number of people, when it comes to our troubled but changing relationship with the modern motor car. So welcome to CAR21 — and now let’s see what happens next.

So in what is at least a serious  trial run, we have decided at least for the rest of this year to alter the title from the previous “World Carshare Consortium”  to, as you see above, CAR21: New Ways of Owning and Using Cars in the 21st Century.

The problem with sticking with our old title and its unambiguous focus of “carsharing” is that this word in many minds tends to lock into organizations and life styles that are mainly associated with variant of the kinds of “car clubs” (as our British friends like to put it) that have been around for decades, and which today is often in many minds identified with Zipcar (never mind that there are hundreds of other operators and playersthat compete variously and often vigorously in this market).  Yes, carsharing in its many forms is very much a dynamic ongoing process, but it is, as we see it, part of something  that is much larger and more important.  Moreover if we put it into context and stretch our minds in the process, we just may end up understanding it better — and in the process do more and better with it.

CAR20

The old dominant pattern (might we say CAR20?) of primarily individual ownership of each vehicle which the proud proprietors largely drive themselves and by themselves. If there were one or two other well known facts that formed the bedrock of CAR20, these might include that (a) the vehicle more often than not travelled with only one person on board and further that (b) for something like 95% of the time they weren’t going anywhere (i.e., parked). In both cases a seriously wasted asset.

Thus if we put the two together and keep in view that this gradually became the dominant pattern of “own car” combined with a very fast expanding market and user group — with something like 70 to 80 million new cars being bought and put on the road each year —  we can see that we are facing a situation of land take of CAR20 which has became increasingly incompatible with the geometry and space scarcity of many of our cities.

Another well documented dominant characteristic of CAR20 was the fact that they cost people a lot, in at least two ways. First, as a major, sometimes even crippling budget item for those who have to pay for them.  And second for the community as a whole since they are very demanding of expensive infrastructure provided almost 100% by the taxpayer.

Thus, as we here know well, CAR20 was not only ripe for change, but these changes are already taking place at an accelerating rate.  Even if not yet fully visible to policy makers and the public at large.

We now have increasing numbers of people  who are using various alternative systems and strategies for getting access to cars when they need them (think mobility, it is even better), but without leaving themselves for ever saddled with the high costs and nagging cares that full-time car ownership all too often brings with it.

Then too, we have new players entering the CAR21 field every day, of which automobile manufacturers are among the most notable. But they are not the only ones.

So, the thrust of the future — and in many places already the thrust of the present — is for our cars to be used in more efficient ways, in some cases through a wide selection of arrangements for ridesharing, carpooling and even hitchhiking (albeit it in modern forms) , in others by an increasing array of shared taxi and limousine services,

CAR21: Testing 1 2 3

Like it or not (and if you are fair you really do have to like it), the “modern motor car” is not dead. It has in fact a terrific and exciting future.  These motorised boxes with four wheels and a human driver at the helm are not about to go away, to wither on the vine or to be replaced by something else — and will for many decades continue to yield yeoman services to large numbers of people who need to get somewhere. But with some important transformational differences in terms of the ways in which they are owned and used.

CAR21 is a very exciting and extremely dynamic field. And it is also, despite the fact that carsharing and ridesharing have been around in many forms for a long time, a very new field. If you think of it as an example of Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction you will not be too far off target.

The sudden and largely unexpected on-rush of the auto industry in the last several years into the carsharing business (albeit for the most part on a highly tentative basis) has been very noticeable, as have been the resurgence of interest on the part of some of the mayor players in the rental car industry after decades of beating around the bush — both of these belatedly dragging their considerable hulks in as part of a possible Plan B survival strategy for markets that have matured and are fundamentally changing under stress.  Not to mention the venture capital people who have become a lot less coy about climbing onboard in the last several years.

But perhaps most striking characteristic of CAR21 is the role that technology is already playing and will continue to play in defining the field, and all that at accelerating rates. And while some of this is coming from innovations in the vehicles themselves, far the greater part has to do with the invention, evolution and use of new forms of ICT which are the synapses that link all the various many parts of the CAR21 brain.

That said, there is one other and certainly even more fundamental actor shaping the field, and that is the way in which individuals and communities are deciding how and why to unhook themselves from the old model and become more efficient players on the local mobility scene – and in the process freeing themselves of the unnecessary deadweight their own cars and turning to a market offering increasingly lots of better mobility options (and combinations).

Against all this pattern of accelerating change, there is one group of lagging but important players how have yet to understand who they fit in with all this, and that is cities and local government more generally. But there is action there too, and one of the objectives of CAR21 will be to be on top of that too.

So stay tuned and let us here from you. (Did anyone mention that it was 2013?)

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Comments

The first commentary on this just in from Dave Brooks, one of the defining figures in the carsharing movement since the late 1990s and editor of Carsharing.US  at http://carsharing.us.

Eric – You make some great points. I don’t think it’s time to retire the carshare moniker quite yet – because I think having carshare in the title includes the people side of the equation (which you talk about above), while just having the word “cars” in the title doesn’t do for me. Thanks.

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One thought on ““CAR21″: A Thinking Exercise (or New Ways of Owning and Using Cars in the 21st Century)

  1. Eric – You make some great points. I don’t think it’s time to retire the carshare moniker quite yet – because I think having carshare in the title includes the people side of the equation (which you talk about above), while just having the word “cars” in the title doesn’t do for me. Thanks.

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