Weekly Brief: Mini, Opel and Ford add to car-sharing gold rush

In this week’s Brief: MINI, Airbnb, BMW, BMW DriveNow, Opel, Toyota, Ford, Getaround, easyCar Club, Google, OnStar, Chevrolet, Nokia HERE, Facebook, Apple, Uber, Baidu, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Bloomberg, Jaguar, HERE Auto and TomTom.


As the sharing economy kicks into full gear, more carmakers are signaling that they want in. Add Opel and MINI to the list, making them the latest to turn to peer-to-peer rentals as a way to offset the expense of ownership and entice new buyers.


MINI, in relaunching its brand with a simplified logo and sleeker visual identity, announced a new car-sharing scheme inspired by the popular housing rental company Airbnb. Every person in the U.S. who buys a MINI will now have the option of renting his or her car. MINI will use BMW’s DriveNow carsharing app to power the program, which allows users to locate nearby cars on a map, then tap their registration cards against a windshield sensor to open the car and go.


MINI plans to expand the program internationally to other cities where DriveNow is active in the coming year.


Opel meanwhile launched a new car-sharing program called CarUnity in Germany. What’s unique here is that the program extends beyond Opel car owners and allows car owners of any brand to rent their cars, all through a free app that can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Car owners can decide who may rent their car; for example, they can limit renters to their Facebook friends or to people in their personal CarUnity network.


Opel and MINI join the ranks of Toyota, Ford and BMW, which pioneered the car-sharing space in 2011 with DriveNow.


Speaking of Ford, the carmaker announced that it’s shifting its car-sharing activity from research to implementation with a new Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing program in London and six U.S. cities. Ford is inviting 14,000 U.S. customers and 12,000 London customers to sign up to rent their Ford Credit-financed vehicles to prescreened drivers for short-term use. The Getaround car-sharing app will power the service in the U.S., as will the easyCar Club app in London. Peer-2-Peer Car Sharing will live alongside Ford’s GoDrive, an on-demand, public car-sharing pilot that allows customers to rent from a fleet of 50 Ford cars (owned by the carmaker, not customers) for one-way journeys in London.


In other news, Google’s self-driving car project finally took to the streets in Mountain View, California, where everyday drivers can now expect to see funny bubble-shaped vehicles plotting around town at a max of 25 mph. By law, the cars also have to have drivers behind the wheel and at the ready to take over should a situation demand they intervene. Given recent revelations that a number of Google Cars have gotten into accidents, often due to regular drivers behind expecting the self-driving cars to accelerate at a green or turn when there’s an opening across traffic, the driver requirement seems like a good idea.


Google says as more Google Cars hit the road, it’s actively seeking feedback from other drivers and pedestrians to make the Google Car better. Here’s what one early commentator had to say on the Google Self-Driving Car Project page:


“there is nothing interesting about watching a car carefully turn left. Imagine nascar but 90% slower. Zzzzzzzzz.”


OnStar expanded its global footprint to Brazil. The safety and security solution will launch on the Chevrolet Cruze later this year, with stolen-vehicle recovery a priority for the Brazilian market, where a car is stolen roughly every 12 minutes. OnStar will also feature automatic crash response, navigation and a smartphone app that enables remote functions like vehicle locate and door lock/unlock.


The bidding period to acquire Nokia HERE has now come to a close, according to reports in numerous news outlets. The last month has seen rumours swirl that Nokia HERE is destined to become the latest Facebook acquisition, or will be subsumed into Apple, or upstart rideshare company Uber, or Chinese search giant Baidu, or the German triumvirate of BMW, Mercedes and Audi, who want to control the mapping giant to steer their own fate with self-driving vehicle technology, rather than become dependent on the likes of Google.


Although nothing is settled, Bloomberg reports that the German automakers are front runners, with the asking price being the biggest hurdle remaining. Nokia HERE is valued at $2 billion but reportedly is asking for much more.


Nokia HERE added six more countries to its live traffic data service — Bulgaria and Romania in Europe, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain in the Middle East — bringing its global coverage to 50 countries.


Jaguar integrated the InControl Touch Pro infotainment system, built on HERE Auto’s infotainment platform, into the new Jaguar XJ. Jaguar also features Nokia-HERE-powered technology on the Jaguar XF.


Finally, who’s a better driver, you or your mates? TomTom launched an app called CURFER that lets you find out. The app couples with an OBD dongle and provides all sorts of live and retrospective feedback, from braking and cornering to acceleration and idling. Improvement can lead to safer driving, better fuel mileage and most important of all: bragging rights. Users can share individual driving style with friends over social media networks and compete to achieve the best possible driving performance.


Sounds like a stretch to us that competing for best driving rights will be more attractive to Millennials than, say, playing a video game, but TomTom will soon find out if there’s enough demand to drive its latest aftermarket product.


The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU analysis with information from industry press releases.

Andrew Tolve is a regular TU contributor.

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