Volkswagen: We Share
Volkswagen, the German carmaker which was blamed for cheating to pass emissions testing just three years ago, is now launching an all-electric car sharing service: We Share.
The service will be first rolled out in Berlin in the second quarter of 2019. According to Volkswagen, the users of the service will initially be able to rent the electrified version of the best-selling hatchback, Volkswagen Golf (e-Golf); later in the year, 500 VW Up! (e-Up) will be added to the 1,500 e-Golfs, bringing the total number of cars available to Berliners to 2000. In 2020, the service will expand to other cities in Germany, more countries in Europe, and to North America.
It is not the first time the VAG group is experimenting with alternative ownership models: Porsche is offering a premium monthly subscription service called Passport. Nonetheless, this is the first time the group is offering an all-electric, car-sharing service. As the classic ownership model is eroded, car sharing, along with other ways of driving, are becoming more prevalent options in the car market. Volkswagen, through its initiative "We" is rethinking mobility in various ways. Apart from We Share, VW We is creating other solutions to problems that plague drivers and car owners - a fascinating example is the ability to use a car's trunk as a mailbox to have one's packages delivered (We Deliver). Indeed, other car manufacturers have taken steps to guard against the possibility of finding themselves in a "sales-dry" future where people choose not to buy their own vehicle but instead, share. Volvo, for example, recently announced the creation of M, its own subsidiary focusing on mobility services (including, but not limited to car sharing).
And although VW may have the capacity to offer better availability of vehicles to car sharers, other car sharing companies are already offering a similar product, often using VW's vehicles. Borrow, for example, is an LA-based, electric vehicle sharing company that gives its members access to VW e-Golf and BMW i3 on its premium package - alternatively, its cheaper subscription gives lower budget customers the choice of a Fiat 500e or a Nissan Leaf. In London, UK, a market that will likely be one of the next destinations of We Share in 2020, ZipCar is already offering 100 VW e-Golf vehicles and is expected to bring the total to 325 by the end of 2018.
There is no doubt that attempting to grab a piece of this growing market is a smart move for Volkswagen - it is not clear whether delaying the debut of We Share until 2019/2020 will allow them to fully capitalise on this move, but given the projected scale of Berlin's We Share, it is likely that Volkswagen will do car sharing better than ZipCar and Borrow. Additionally, the fundamental proposition of VW WE, namely, the improvement of life in cities, is not exactly served by a car sharing service. Although EV sharing could potentially reduce the number of vehicles in cities and limit pollution, it does not tackle the problem of single occupancy vehicles or the fact that EVs can only be as green as the method used to produce electricity. If Volkswagen is truly committed to improving life in cities, it may be wiser to take WE a step further and consider ride sharing too.