Interview: Switzerland’s 17 Year-Old Car Sharing Service Mobility Rides High on the Sharing Economy

 “If Mobility did not exist, 22% of our customer households and 50% of business customers would today have an additional vehicle. This amounts to 23,000 cars.”

Long before the term “sharing economy” was ever coined, and long before the rise of car sharing companies Uber, Lyft, Sidecar and BlaBlaCar, Switzerland’s Mobility had the notion that car sharing would be the way of the future. The company was founded in 1997 following the merger of two smaller car sharing start-ups ATG AutoTeilet Genossenschaft and ShareCom. Today, Mobility has 2650 cars on the road throughout Switzerland where over 105,000 of their customers rent a car for a few hours at a time, doing away with the need of owning their own, or indeed, renting a car from a traditional rental firm for longer than they need. As one customer posted on a recent forum, the service is “a perfect, economical and environmentally-friendly combination.”
Mobility is also benefiting from the rise of the sharing economy. Younger consumers embracing their services and the subsidiary Mobility International AG offers the software „MobiSys 2.0“ that helps car manufacturers to set up their own car sharing projects. In 2013, Renault set up its electric car-sharing offer Twizy Way outside of Paris.

Mila caught up with Mobility’s Communication and Media Executive, Patrick Eigenmann, who explained how the service works and its impact on consumer behavior, transportation, and car ownership.

patrick_eigenmann_mobilityCan you tell us a little bit about how Mobility car sharing works?

With Mobility car sharing you have round-the-clock, self-service access to 2,650 vehicles at 1,380 locations throughout Switzerland. The procedure is simplicity itself: subscribe, reserve your desired car via Internet, app or telephone and open it by holding your personal Mobility Card against the checkpoint card reader on the windscreen. The central locking releases automatically – and off you go. You can extend or shorten your reservation through an intelligent, onboard computer. We have a range of vehicles, everything from Smart cars to vans that you can rent depending on what you need them for.

Can you tell us the top 3-5 reasons your customers choose to use your service? Is it cost-savings? Or is it convenience?

We’ve discovered it’s primarily down to four reasons:
1. Economical: compared to owning your own car, the combination of Mobility and public transport  saves you CHF 4,000 a year ($4,560; £2,718)
2. Transparent: our hourly and kilometer rates include everything, even fuel, servicing and insurance.
3. Flexible and convenient: reserve your Mobility vehicle around the clock from one hour to several days. All vehicles are regularly cleaned and serviced.
4. Ecological: car sharers each emit 298 kg less CO2 per year than people who own their cars.

Mobility has been in operation for nearly twenty years now. Have you really seen a bigger shift in people’s attitude toward car ownership? Are more people ready to give up their cars?

A car sharing subscription exerts a fundamental effect on the way people organize their daily transport: A study proves that if Mobility did not exist, 22% of our customer households and 50% of business customers would today have an additional vehicle. This amounts to 23,000 cars. Moreover, we have seen mainly in urban areas and especially amongst the younger generations that owning a private car is not a high priority.

Can you tell us a little bit about your partnership with the Swiss Federal Railways? How did it come about and can you tell us what sort of benefits both Mobility and Swiss Federal Railways have reaped from it?

We collaborate very closely with the Swiss Federal Railways. We offer price reductions to customers who hold one of their subscriptions. This is a win-win-situation, because car sharing works only in combination with public transport. For example, most car sharers travel from city to city by train, e.g. from Zurich to Geneva. They then use a Mobility vehicle to reach their final destination. Figures show that car sharers travel 50% of their daily distance by public transport, compared to only 18% of the rest of the population who owns a driver’s license.

Can you describe for us how you see the car-sharing market growing? Have you seen a real boost in interest since the rise of the “sharing economy”?

Mainly for young people it is getting more important to have access to goods and services rather than possessing them. The sharing economy trend has literally just started and will involve all kinds of products and services in the future. In case of car sharing worldwide, Frost & Sullivan predict 25 million users who share 450,000 vehicles by 2020. Of course these are positive signs for the Swiss market, too, but as Mobility were pioneers and have built up this market over a long period already, there are surely no comparable growth perspectives.

When you first launched your car-sharing scheme, what sort of problems did you encounter? Or, did people / consumers always embrace the idea of car sharing?

The Mobility Cooperative was founded in 1997 when ATG and ShareCom merged. At that point, car sharing was already gaining popularity in Switzerland and demand for it has grown ever since. There are several reasons that consumers have embraced car sharing. First, Mobility managed to make car sharing suitable for the masses with innovative IT tools. Second, more and more people really began to value the idea of sustainability and preserving the environment. Third, the small-scale design of Switzerland makes having your own car redundant, especially in urban areas where public transportation is well developed. Our biggest hurdle when we started was the density of the services. But nowadays, our 105,100 customers benefit from our closely woven network of 2,650 vehicles in 500 municipalities.

We see that your car sharing software now powers the platform for Renault’s car-sharing Twizy Way scheme. Can you tell us about the scheme and if we’ll see more large automakers like Renault supporting car-sharing schemes?

Mobility International Inc. is the IT-subsidiary of the Mobility Cooperative. The company develops and offers the car sharing software MobiSys 2.0 which is in use by Carsharing.at in Austria and Renault in France. It relies on agile development and can be combined with consulting services by Mobility International Inc. As
the growth perspectives of international car sharing are brilliant, more and more providers will enter the market, amongst them large automakers who don’t want to miss these promising opportunities.

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