Daimler pilots on-the-spot car rental

Pay-by-the-minute spontaneous car-hire is about to begin trials in Germany in a service that resembles a self-drive taxi.

Automotive manufacturer Daimler is launching the car2go service in the southern German city of Ulm on 24 October 2008. The firm describes it as "a completely new mobility concept providing a future-oriented answer to increasing traffic volume in urban areas".

A fleet of smart fortwo vehicles will be made available within the city, functioning as a vehicle pool that can be accessed at any time. Following a one-off registration process, the smarts can be hired spontaneously in passing, or pre-booked and used for as long as desired.

The customer gets in and can drive off right away. Once the trip is completed, the driver simply parks the rental smart somewhere within the city limits. Billing for the Ulm project is a simple 19 cents per minute.

On registering for car2go, the customer’s driving licence is provided with an electronic chip that enables the car to be unlocked. Wherever a customer finds a free smart, they can hire it on-the-spot by holding their driving licence up to a reading device behind the windscreen, then getting in, entering their PIN number and driving off. Available vehicles can be located quickly and easily via the internet or a telephone service hotline.

Alternatively, vehicles can be booked up to 24 hours in advance. In this case the location and directions to the vehicle reserved are sent to the customer in good time via a text message.

The rental period can last for as long as desired. The vehicle remains reserved for the customer during any stops made – when shopping, for example. When customers wish to return the car2go, they simply leave the vehicle in a parking space within the city limits. All "non-managed" parking spaces within the city limits can be used, and specially marked car2go parking spaces are provided at railway stations or airports.

The charge of 19 cents per minute includes all associated costs such as fuel, insurance and taxes. Favourable hourly or daily rates apply to longer rental periods. To encourage people to try the service, there is no joining fee or long-term contractual commitment. Customers pay for the actual vehicle use by means of a convenient monthly bill.

A service team cleans the vehicles and handles all technical maintenance work. This guarantees that every customer receives a clean, tidy and undamaged vehicle for every trip. The service team is also responsible for refilling the fuel tank, or customers can do this themselves using a pre-paid fuel card found in the glove compartment in return for free minutes credited against their next trip.

The first phase of the project will have 50 smart fortwos which will initially be available to employees of Daimler AG only.

Robert Henrich, the responsible project manager in Daimler's Business Innovation division says “Our objective in this initial project phase is to gather practical experience of using car2go. For example we will analyse the technical implementation, the service concept and the usage behaviour of the customers.”

The second pilot phase will begin in spring 2009, and will see the size of the vehicle fleet in Ulm increased considerably and the group of possible users expanded to include all residents of the city and visitors.

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