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GM dips toe in car sharing in deal with RelayRides

OnStar users will be able to rent their cars through RelayRides using the remote lock/unlock feature of OnStar, giving GM some exposure to peer-to-peer car-sharing services.

Even incumbent automakers think this car-sharing idea has some legs.

General Motors is expected announce a partnership tomorrow with start-up RelayRides that will allow GM vehicles owners to rent out their cars to other consumers using OnStar and a smart-phone. The service will first be offered in California starting by the end of the first quarter next year.

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The auto giant is partnering with RelayRides to learn more about car sharing and offer OnStar customers a service to make revenue with their vehicles, said Stephen Girsky, vice chairman of corporate strategy and new business development at GM. It also gives more people an opportunity to get exposure to GM cars, such as the electric Chevy Volt, he added.

There are a growing number of car-sharing services that let people get access to a car for as little as an hour or a full day. In the case of RelayRides, individuals rent out their cars to others directly and the company provides insurance. ZipCar, by contrast, operates its own fleet and makes them available to members.

Once the service is live, drivers of GM vehicles with the OnStar communications system activated will be able to make use of RelayRides without the need for the RFID hardware device normally required. Through OnStar, people will be able to unlock cars for RelayRide rentals over a smart phone and get information on how far they drove, explained Girsky.

As part of the partnership, GM's venture arm is in discussions to invest in RelayRides, said Girsky.

The deal opens up RelayRides to GM vehicles equipped with OnStar, effectively creating another channel for the car-sharing service. For GM, the partnership gives it exposure to a transportation mode that is becoming more popular, particularly with city drivers and younger people. OnStar is installed in an estimated 15 million vehicles.

"We know the world is changing and we want to stay relevant in the world of the future," said Girsky. "We thought it was worth exploring."

Other automakers have also made forays into car-sharing. Ford today announced a deal to supply cars for a Zipcar service at universities and Toyota is supplying plug-in Priuses to Zipcar.