How -- and why -- to rent directly from car companies

Looking towards a future where many people won't need to own a car, Audi, BMW, Chevrolet and Mercedes-Benz explore new services to make using a car easy.

Sugar Shoots / Jules Frazier

Anticipating a future trend where personal car ownership gives way to car-sharing, automakers are testing the waters with their own services. These automaker-owned services offer brand-specific vehicles and rely on modern technology, such as smartphones, for making reservations and accessing the cars.

While services such as ZipCar have been around for a while, automakers bring their own vehicle expertise to the market. Consumers can also benefit from brand familiarity, such as knowing how the dashboard electronics work.

Automaker car sharing services allow reservations through an app.

Audi

Here are four modern services from automakers that make it easy to get in a car. Note that some of these details depend on individual markets, and are subject to change. Check out our handy chart comparing each service at the bottom.

Audi on Demand

Currently offered only in San Francisco, Audi on Demand offers a decent variety of Audi vehicles, from the compact plug-in hybrid A3 model all the way up to the V10-powered R8. Those needing a small SUV can look to the Q5, or experience a big luxury sedan in the S8.

True to the service's name, when you make a reservation through the app or on the website, a concierge delivers the car. Likewise, at the end of the rental period, the concierge picks it up. Pricing starts at $120 per day, with no hourly rate offered.

BMW ReachNow

BMW ReachNow serves three markets currently: Portland, Seattle and Brooklyn. It offers smaller cars from the BMW Group, ranging from the Mini Cooper up to the BMW X1 compact SUV. It also offers an electric car, the BMW i3, for those who want to experience electric driving.

Making BMW ReachNow a potentially spontaneous service, you merely have to check the app to see if there is an available car nearby. If so, you can reserve it in the app, which then gives you access. To drop off the car, you merely leave it in any legal municipal parking spot, which could even be curbside in front of your house. Pricing begins at 41 cents per minute of driving, which amounts to $24.60 per hour. However, BMW ReachNow includes a series of rate caps beginning at $20 for one hour and up to $350 for five days.

Daimler Car2Go

Daimler, the company behind Mercedes-Benz, runs its Car2Go service in seven cities across the country. It only includes three models, all sized for urban markets. Mercedes-Benz' new compacts are represented by the CLA sedan and GLA small SUV, while those who want to have no trouble at all parking can opt for the tiny, two-seat Smart car.

As both Car2Go and BMW's ReachNow run on the same back-end platform from a company called RideCell, there are many similarities to the two services. Cars can be found in public and designated parking spaces within the service area, with the app telling you which cars are available to drive. The app grants access once you make the reservation, and you can leave the car at any legal municipal parking spot. Car2Go also rents at a rate of 41 cents per minute, and offers a day rate of $79.

GM Maven

GM gives renters hourly access to a variety of its brands through Maven, and has aggressively grown its market reach. The service exists in seven markets across the country, from Boston to Los Angeles. It recently added the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt to its fleet, which also counts vehicles ranging from the compact Chevrolet Cruze to the Cadillac Escalade SUV. Maven adjusts its fleet vehicle availability for each market, responding to consumer interest.

The Maven app shows designated parking areas for its vehicles within each service area and lets you know which are available. You use the app not only to reserve a car, but also to unlock it and start the engine. At the end of the reservation period, the car must be returned to a designated parking spot. Maven charges an hourly rate of $8 to $14 depending on the vehicle, and fuel is included.

Automaker sharing services

Audi on Demand BMW ReachNow Daimler Car2Go GM Maven
App Yes Yes Yes Yes
Registration fee None $39 (currently waived) $5 Currently waived
Annual fee None None None None
Rental rate $120 per day and up, based on vehicle 41 cents per minute driving/30 cents per minute parked/Rate caps begin at $20 for one hour 41 cents per minute to $79 per day, based on vehicle $8 to $14 per hour, based on vehicle
Minimum age 25 21 None stated 18
Fuel Not included Included for first 24 hours Included Included
Mileage Zero to one dollar per mile over 200 miles per day, depending on model 45 cents per mile over 200 miles per day 45 cents per mile over 150 miles per day 42 cents per mile over 180 miles per day
Drop-off/Pick-up Concierge delivery and pick-up Anywhere within service area Anywhere within service area Designated parking space
Cars - Compacts Yes Yes Yes Yes
Cars - SUVs Yes Yes No Yes
Cars - Electrics No Yes No Yes
Markets San Francisco Seattle, Portland, Brooklyn New York City, Portland, Columbus, Seattle, Denver, Austin, Washington Denver, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Washington DC, Chicago
Car access type Key App App App

*The information on this chart is current at the time of publication.

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