Yesterday, The New York Times reported that Google invested an undisclosed sum in RelayRides, a service that let's members rent their cars to other members. The traditional model of car sharing, exemplified by Zipcar, allows members to rent from a company which owns and manages a fleet.
We've talked before about the potential of the peer-to-peer model to mainstream car sharing. Google's vision goes one step further, they're working toward a system where the cars drive themselves and are routed dynamically for lower emissions, increased safety, and more free time for users. Now that Google has a stake in RelayRides, their plans undoubtedly include routing cars to fill the empty seats of cars in transit. This takes the efficiency of car sharing to a whole new level.
What the Times story misses, however, is the significance of Google investing in the sharing economy space (also know as the access economy, collaborative consumption, and the mesh). There have been a number of key financings including Zimride and Airbnb, but not from such a giant as Google with high interest from the very top of the company. CEO Eric Schmidt is a vocal champion of the project in a company where there's hundreds of products under development. This financing could generate a rush of investment in the space. If you're building a sharing company, now is the time to start making the rounds if you haven't started already.
This funding also shows how fast automobile transportation as a product service system is evolving. There are now three generations of car sharing developing simultaneously - fleet based, peer-to-peer, and Google's automatic driving. And other big companies including Hertz, Daimler, and Enterprise have gotten into the game fairly recently creating hybrid services like car rental with ride sharing (take a passenger with you to lower your car rental cost).
In addition to the significance of the Google investment to stimulating new investment in the space, the rapid growth of car sharing could accelerate the growth of the sharing economy in another way. Our New Sharing Economy study showed that car sharers share across significantly more asset categories than non-car sharers. This suggests that car sharing is a gateway drug to sharing. It echoes a consistent theme I see as publisher of Shareable, that sharing begets more sharing. In fact, sharing is viral. Once someone sees that it works in one area of life, they want to try it in another. And since you can't share alone, you take other people with you down the path to a more shareable way of life.
...And this just in, Zipcar raised another $21 million. It's getting hot in here.
Image courtesy of Daimler.