Getaround Car-Sharing Service Gains Traction (But We Have Doubts)

May 31, 2011


A couple of weeks ago, we told you about RelayRides, a car-sharing start-up that lets folks loan out their vehicles to friends and strangers for cold, hard cash. Now, a similar peer-to-peer start-up seems to be drawing a lot of attention and at least one high-profile investor. Is this the way of the future? We're not so sure.

The company in question is called Getaround. (You might've seen Nelson Ireson's write-up of Getaround at CES back in January.) In concept, Getaround is nearly identical to RelayRides: car owners register with the company to loan out their vehicles for hours, days, or weeks at a time. Then, borrowers use the Getaround website or iPhone app to find a vehicle in their neighborhood that fits their needs and reserve it.

The major difference between the two? Getaround just won the TechCrunch Disrupt NYC award -- and with it, a novelty check for $50,000.

Our Take

As we said about RelayRides, Getaround works great in theory. It makes life much easier for borrowers, since it saves them the hassle of schlepping to a centralized lot. It works well for loaners, too, since they make money off their under-used cars. And it saves a huge chunk of change for the start-up, since they don't need to purchase and maintain a fleet like Zipcar does -- they just build software to facilitate connections between loaners and borrowers.

As we also said about RelayRides, however, Getaround raises some thorny issues -- legal and otherwise -- for the folks who loan out their cars. If a car comes back dirty, a loaner can mention that via feedback (like on eBay), but there's no word about how much of that feedback would result in someone being barred from the service. If a borrower gets a ticket and doesn't pay it, the loaner can get stuck with the cost. And although Getaround says that its insurance supersedes that of the loaner in the event of an accident during a rental, we can see some agencies having problems with that.

Bottom line: while we appreciate the thought of under-used vehicles being put to work, and while we like the idea of owners being able to generate revenue, we're not sure that Getaround's version of car-sharing will work in practice. Similar experiments have been tried with bike-sharing, and nearly all have tanked because the bikes have been stolen or destroyed by borrowers. The situation might not get that bad with cars -- though if lenders start bailing on the service after a few unpleasant experiences, the start-up could be left high-and-dry.

For more info about Getaround, poke through the the company's website and FAQ, or have a look at this interview with some of the Getaround team. (Note: it doesn't exactly inspire confidence.)


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