With peer-to-peer car sharing, it is getting easier and easier to get away without owning a car in a city. But one barrier to growth of these kinds of marketplaces is the need to transfer the key.
The startup RelayRides announced today it would acquire a smaller but similar company, Wheelz, in part for its “DriveBox” hardware that allows people to unlock a car with a card or mobile app. Keyless entry makes it easier for renters, and if the box can be simple and cheap to install, might not be much of a hassle to car owners who aim to make money by renting out their unused car.
Already, RelayRides has been trying to make access easier. It works with General Motors, also an investor, to allow car owners with the OnStar service to grant entry to their car remotely via a mobile app or text. The company says, today, its marketplace includes several thousand cars available across 1,500 cities (though surely concentrated in a few major metro areas).
Car-sharing could make a dent in overall road congestion and sales for car manufacturers, if done at a larger scale than it is today. According to the firm Frost and Sullivan, for example, each available shared vehicle in the U.S. replaced an average of 15 personal vehicles in 2009.
RelayRide’s goal is to make a car available within a 10 minute walk of 100 million people’s homes by the end of 2015. It sounds like a lofty ambition, but this acquisition may help put it on its way.