By now, many Americans are familiar with Zipcar and similar car-sharing services. Unlike their close cousins -- car rental outfits like Hertz and Avis, which thrive on tourists and other travelers -- car-sharing companies target local consumers, typically urbanites who live in cities with strong public transportation systems. Car-sharing services allow such people to borrow a vehicle quickly and easily for occasional trips to places that aren't accessible by public transit or for shopping excursions that require schlepping home more than a few bags of groceries. Companies like Zipcar have proven so successful that BMW has decided to give them a run for their money.
For 12 months, the automaker plans to run a pilot program called "BMW on Demand" in its hometown of Munich, Germany. Customers will pay between €16 and €32 per hour ($22 - $39), depending on the BMW model they borrow. Reservations can be made in person, online, or by phone.
The phenomenon of car-sharing and managed carpooling (like we've seen from Daimler's Car2Go and Zimride) are both relatively new. They're a direct reaction to the global movement toward urban environments, where owning a car is often impractical and unnecessary. What's interesting is that although the trend of urbanization seems self-evident to most of us, acknowledging it goes against most of the marketing messages we've absorbed over the last 50 or 60 years -- namely, the idea that happiness and contentment come from having two cars in every garage. But then, without a garage....