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BMW launches all electric car sharing, DriveNow, in San Francisco

BMW's DriveNow premium car sharing service has launched in the U.S. starting in San Francisco with 70 BMW ActiveE electric cars available for short-term rental.


Some car makers, like BMW, are looking at the future of crowded urban centers with tight parking restrictions, and are looking at repositioning themselves as "mobility service providers." That is, the automakers product/service is "mobility" and the sale of an automobile is only one way to provide mobility to customers. In that vein, BMW is launching its DriveNow program in America starting in San Francisco with a fleet of 70 vehicles. DriveNow is a "premium car sharing service" and is coupled with a mobile parking solution, ParkNow.

The DriveNow fleet in San Francisco consists of 70 ActiveE's, BMW's prototype all electric zero emission car. In January the company started leasing ActiveE's to 700 Electronaut's across the U.S., including many in the SF Bay Area. The ActiveE is built on the BMW series 1 coupe, making it a two-door coupe, with seating for four, and a full trunk in the rear. The 32 kilowatt-hour battery pack provides a 100 mile range, and the 125 kilowatt (170 horsepower) motor provides maximum torque of 250 Nm / 184 lb-ft and 0-60 times of around 8 seconds.

Customers in the DriveNow program register with the DriveNow website, then use that website or a smart phone app to reserve a car. The car is picked up at a DriveNow station, and can be returned to a different DriveNow station. Joining requires a one-time activation fee, and then car rental costs $12 for the first 30 minutes of driving, and $0.32 for every additional minute. Current DriveNow stations are in San Francisco, near the Oakland Airport, with other stations planned at the San Francisco Airport and in Palo Alto.

The program has a partnership with Coulomb Technologies to provide charging services through the ChargePoint network. Charging through this program is free at any ChargePoint station.

DriveNow is the first car sharing program to utilize highly-efficient premium vehicles and comprehensive service and BMW describes it as "a modern mobility concept that combines top-quality vehicles and service with simple, flexible usage." The program began in Germany in 2011 as a joint venture between BMW and the car rental company Sixt AG. There are over 45,000 DriveNow members and the program is available today in Munich, Berlin and Düsseldorf, and soon in Cologne.

A companion service, ParkNow, is being launched in San Francisco as well. In this service a car driver can use the ParkNow smart phone app to find and reserve a parking space. There are 14 ParkNow locations being built in San Francisco today.

Both DriveNow and ParkNow are offered under the "BMW i" brand. This brand is leading BMW's strategic move towards sustainable transportation, and includes two new vehicles, the BMW i3 and i8, which BMW intends to launch in 2013 and 2014. They will be BMW's first first series-produced vehicles specially built with electric engine and electric hybrid drive train.

Car sharing programs of all stripes share a common set of attributes. Under the existing model of individual car ownership, our cars sit unused for 20 hours or more a day. This can be viewed as an under-utilized asset, and car sharing programs are a way to make better use of that asset. At the individual level rather than undergo the expense of car ownership, the advantage of a car sharing program is "on-demand-access" where one only pays for the amount of car access one truly needs. For the right set of circumstances it could save someone a lot of money.

Ian Robertson, Member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, responsible for BMW Sales and Marketing: “The BMW Group not only manufactures premium automobiles, but also develops a range of services to meet the growing need for flexible mobility solutions in urban areas. The launch of DriveNow and ParkNow in San Francisco and other cities is part of our commitment to the development of new mobility offerings, which will reduce the level of pollutant emissions and traffic congestion and improve quality of life for residents.”

DriveNow website: