America's largest carmaker is preparing for a world where people don't buy cars.
That's the buzz surrounding 107-year-old General Motors, which lately has made a series of unexpected and sprightly moves that signal its recognition of — and readiness to participate in — the country's radically changing car culture.
To recap the Detroit company's busy January: GM announced a partnership with and $500 million investment in ride-sharing service Lyft, including plans to provide Lyft with a fleet of driverless cars. (Lyft is Uber's main competitor in the on-the call driver business.) GM also acquired the discontinued ride-share service Sidecar. And it unveiled its electric car, Bolt, with a battery capable of powering through 200 miles.
Most recently, GM launched car-sharing service Maven in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For the uninitiated, car-sharing involves picking up a car at a designated location and driving it yourself (Zipcar and Car2Go may be the most well-known examples). With Maven, customers can locate and reserve cars at one of 21 locations around Ann Arbor using an app, and unlock the vehicle and control the heating and cooling system through their smartphones. The Maven fleet also will be compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Sirius XM. Though limited to Ann Arbor for now, GM plans to expand the service soon to Chicago and New York City.
All of a sudden, GM is a significant player in the four biggest trends that are upending its legacy business: electrification, automation, connectivity, and sharing. Rather than try to beat the forces arrayed against it, General Motors is joining them. [Slate]
"[It's] obvious to us that there are large groups of customers out there that want to have the convenience and access to a car when they need it, but they don't want to have the hassle of ownership," GM president Dan Amman told Wired around the time of the Lyft announcement. The company predicts that around 30 million people will be using car sharing over the next decade.
Other legacy automakers are in on the action. Last June, Ford began piloting a car-sharing program that operates like Airbnb, with car owners renting their cars to prescreened drivers for short periods of time. Earlier this month, the company announced a slightly different take on the idea: a program where three to six drivers band together to lease and share a car; a companion app can help the group coordinate payments, maintenance, and who's driving when.
To be clear, Ford, GM, and others are far from throwing away the traditional single owner-driver model that has long formed the foundation of the automotive industry. But they have joined "a long list of companies you would and wouldn't think of [that] are reserving their slice of the now-inevitable world where cars don't need humans and can come to us with the press of a button," writes David Pierce in Wired.
And therein is the long game that automakers are playing: They see a distant time when self-driving technology has been refined and widely accepted, and fleets of automated cars shuttle people from here to there, meeting and even anticipating demand. It will be big business, and they want to stake a claim.