Car-sharing got a major boost this morning as General Motors announced a new partnership with RelayRides. GM plans to let OnStar subscribers loan out their vehicles using OnStar hardware.
If you're unfamiliar with RelayRides, it's a car-sharing service comparable to Getaround. In a nutshell, car owners agree to rent out their underused vehicles to folks in need of a quick set of wheels. RelayRides installs hardware on participating cars, allowing renters to access them without the bother of exchanging keys. Owners set rental fees for their vehicles, as well as times at which their cars are available.
Borrowers search for nearby cars on the RelayRides website or over the phone, then file their reservation. They receive both a text message and an email explaining where to find the car, then access it using an RFID card. Gas is included in the reservation (there's a gas card in every RelayRides car), as is a $1,000,000 insurance policy.
The gist of the announcement today is that GM is allowing OnStar to be used in place of the RelayRides hardware. In other words, if you own a car with OnStar and you want to participate in RelayRides, you won't have to go through the hassle of having RelayRides install its own hardware in your vehicle: OnStar will do the trick just fine.
The program will roll out in early 2012, in conjunction with an app that will allow borrowers to access vehicles using their smartphones. According to OnStar's Adam Denison, the program will initially be available only for GM vehicles with factory-installed OnStar systems, but there's discussion about rolling out the service to OnStar FMV owners down the line. It goes without saying that participating in RelayRides is purely opt-in for OnStar owners (just like data collection is for former subscribers).
We still have a lot of concerns about car-sharing programs. Not only are there legal hurdles standing in their way, but also, if bike-sharing programs are any gauge of car-sharing's success, the future doesn't look especially bright.
Then again, bike-sharing programs have typically been launched by government agencies, not individual bike owners. Folks might treat borrowed property a little better if they know that it belongs to an individual instead of a federal office.
And more importantly, for RelayRides to secure the GM/OnStar stamp of approval is a major win. To us, that signals that car-sharing is beginning to gain traction in the mainstream, and although it's likely to remain a niche service for the forseeable future, it might prove profitable down the road. Stay tuned.
For those who'd like an overview of RelayRides, here's a quick video explaining the service.
[hat tip, John Voelcker]