BMW Adds Ride-Hailing to ReachNow Car-Sharing App

BMW launched the latest innovation in the search for a new role for automakers this week, combining car-sharing and ride-hailing in its ReachNow app.

The ReachNow car-sharing service, based in Seattle, has been available since 2016 in a few cities. The newly added ride-hailing service gives BMW another way to sell mobility instead of cars, a goal that several manufacturers are pursuing as consumers find new ways to get around without owning a vehicle.

The combined service, which went live on July 17, is only available in Seattle, so far. Members there can get it by updating the Android or iPhone app.

ReachNow also refreshed its car-sharing service in Portland, Ore., and Brooklyn this week.

Manufacturers may need to diversify if urban consumers, especially young adults, find they prefer ride-hailing, car-sharing and other new mobility options to owning a car. An average of 12,663 potential US car sales per year are being lost due to various methods of sharing cars, according to research cited by ReachNow.

“All these brands are trying to figure out how to talk to this group of consumers,” said Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research. It’s not clear yet whether anything the companies are experimenting with will succeed or turn a profit, nor whether consumers will turn away from car ownership in large numbers, he said. But whatever happens, they want to reach those customers.

The new app lets users compare the cost of reserving a car versus hailing a ride for each trip. Putting both options in the same app is a good move, O’Donnell said. “People are overwhelmed with the number of apps they have,” he added.

ReachNow’s ride-hailing service uses only professional drivers in BMW X1 and 3 Series vehicles. It’s available from 6 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday, and until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.

As such, it’s less a direct competitor to Uber and Lyft than a service for people who want something a little nicer than the average ride hail, O’Donnell said. But there is no surge pricing, and users can reserve rides as much as seven days in advance.

With the car-sharing service, members can pay per minute, for set periods of time, or per day, using a vehicle for as long as five days. When they’re finished, they can leave the car in any legal street parking space (without feeding the meter) or certain other locations, including a dedicated lot at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. But the cars have to be returned in ReachNow’s Seattle service area.

The car-sharing fleet includes the Mini Cooper and Clubman and the BMW i3 electric hatchback as well as the X1 and 3 Series.

Many big carmakers are trying different mobility services, including GM with Maven car-sharing, Ford with the Chariot transit service and Volvo with its shareable subscription plan for the new XC40 SUV.

But these early efforts are still works in progress.

In March, BMW and Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler agreed to merge their car-sharing services, including ReachNow and Car2Go.

In May, ReachNow closed down its “free-floating” car-share service in Brooklyn, citing a “challenging operating environment” with high rates of damage to vehicles. It still offers a “residential” service with garaged cars in Brooklyn.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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