Written by Marlene Jordan
Did you know that an average car in North America and Western Europe is in use only 8% of the time (Gansky 2011)? That means that more than 90% of the time the existing resources of these cars are wasted while other people don´t have the economic power to purchase an own car. A solution for this problem of missing reallocation of resources is collaborative consumption in form of car sharing. For more than one decade the concept of car sharing has gained huge popularity and owes its convenience to the internet and web 2.0 (Belk 2014). This and other contemporary phenomena have changed the consumer and their consumption behavior: The number of car sharing members worldwide is increasing while simultaneously car ownership among young people is decreasing and losing its popularity (Bardhi & Eckhardt 2012; Gansky 2011).
This development presents a shift from an owning society to a sharing society and leads us to the question of how far this development will go and whether car sharing will replace car ownership?
THE DIFFERENT CONCEPTS BEHIND SHARING AND CAR SHARING
Car sharing and collaborative consumption is a quite recent concept compared to the whole idea of sharing (Belk 2014). But let´s start from the beginning and have a closer look on what car sharing exactly is about and what ideas it includes.
The concept of sharing is no new phenomenon and was always used among friends, families and neighbors (Khan 2014). With the emergence of the Internet and especially the Web 2.0, which allows users to connect to each other and create own content, sharing has experienced new dimensions and the so called ‘sharing economy’ has become omnipresent in post-industrialized society (Bardhi & Eckhardt 2012; Belk 2014; Dowling & Simpson 2013). According to Robin Chase, the founder of the largest car sharing service Zip Car, “this is was what the Internet was made for, an instant platform sharing excess capacity among people” (Botsman & Rogers 2010, p.84). There are thousands of platforms and communities where all thinkable services and products are shared (Botsman & Rogers 2010). The most common services are car and accommodation sharing (The Economist 2013b). To get a feeling for the dimension we are talking about, take a look at some numbers of the largest platforms of these categories:
The accommodation service of Airbnb is offered in more than 190 countries and 34 000 cities worldwide (Airbnb n.d.).
The car sharing service Zipcar will have around 4,4 million members in North America and 5,5 million members in Europe in 2015 (Botsman & Rogers 2010).
‘Sharing’ has become the buzzword and in relation to this concept several other terms such as renting, lending, swapping, co-creation, co-production, collaborative consumption and access-based consumption are used (Botsman & Rogers 2010; Belk 2014).
Since sharing is used as an umbrella term for several services it makes sense to clarify the idea behind it and break it down. Therefore we will have a closer look on two essential terms:
Belk (2014) differs between sharing and collaborative consumption and defines collaborative consumption as “people coordinating the acquisition and distribution of a resource for a fee or other compensation” (p.1597) whereas in sharing there is no compensation involved. He argues that therefore the term ‘car sharing’, which has become quite popular, is not the most appropriate one, because the use of a car will be compensated after all (Belk 2014).
Bardhi and Eckhardt (2012) also isolate the concept of car sharing from their understanding of the concept of sharing where “joint possessions are free for all to use and generate no debts” (p.882). They describe car sharing as an access-based consumption where access to use an object is gained (Bardhi & Eckhardt 2012).
That brings us to the definition of car sharing, which can be defined as a product service “where consumers gain access to cars for short-term periods by paying per use” (Bardhi & Eckhardt 2012, p.882). Two different forms of car sharing can be distinguished:
Peer-to-peer or car rental services, such as ZipCar and Wheelz, where the consumer pays for borrowing a car,
Taxi-like services, such as Uber and Lyft, where the consumer pays for the transportation from a to b (The Economist 2013b).
THE RISE OF CAR SHARING
Car sharing has its beginnings in Switzerland and Germany more than 25 years ago and since then has become a popular alternative to the ownership of a car all over the world (Bardhi & Eckhardt 2012). As already brought up before, the emergence of the internet and web 2.0 and the new technologies of devices, e.g. smartphones with GPS, has contributed mainly to the increased usage and convenience of car sharing and made such services cheaper and easier than ever (Dowling & Simpson 2013; The Economist 2013a). Moreover, these interconnections with their customers allows car sharing companies to collect data of their consumers and adapt their services (Gansky 2011). But the reason for the boom of car sharing and collaborative consumption in general has not only been based on the widespread of the web and new technologies of devices. Other factors such as the global financial crisis 2008 and the proximate unemployment and recession, the shortage of resources and the rising fuel and raw material prices, the climate change, growing population and re-urbanization have contributed as well (Belk 2014; The Economist 2013b). All these circumstances have excelled car sharing as a concept of collaborative consumption and established these concepts as reputable alternatives to ownership.
Whether or not car sharing will replace car ownership, its limits and further food for thought can be read in the second part.