Daimler, maker of the Smart fortwo, has just launched a new car sharing service called car2go in Ulm, Germany. The service is similar to the Zipcar or City CarShare services where users sign up for the service and are given use to a distributed fleet of vehicles for a fee. In this case, we're talking about a fleet of 50 Smart fortwos. What did you expect, Maybachs?
To start, users sign up on the car2go Web site, as of yet unpublished, or meet with a representative. Once in the system, an electronic tag is applied to the user's driver's license. Users can reserve a vehicle online or hire a car on the spot where ever they find an unreserved vehicle by touching their tagged driver's license to a sensor on the vehicle. The tag allows access to the car2go Smart cars via what we assume is RFID. Once in the vehicle, the driver enters a PIN to gain access to the keys, which are stored in the glove compartment, and drives off.
Daimler claims that renting a Smart is now as easy a using a mobile phone and has even adopted a per-minute pricing structure similar to prepaid wireless phones. Users can go anywhere in the city of Ulm for 19 cents per minute. There is no joining or service fee beyond that. Once done, they simply park the vehicle in any legal parking spot within city limits and swipe their license to end the rental. Vehicles are cleaned and refueled periodically by car2go staff, or users can fill up using a prepaid gas card in the glove compartment. Daimler offers free minute credits as an incentive for returning vehicles with a full tank.
Each of the vehicles includes a GPS navigation system and, of course, GPS tracking to allow Daimler to monitor vehicle location.
Of course, the service is still in its earliest pilot phases. Only Daimler employees can use the 50 car2go Smarts, and then only within Ulm city limits. Daimler has expressed plans to expand the fleet in Ulm and possibly open the service to the public as early as spring 2009.