Automakers have cautiously been exploring car sharing and ride sharing. The inherent conflict is that if more people share cars and rides, fewer people will buy their own car. But Daimler has been on the forefront of embracing the web and mobile to share their cars, and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week the company said that it plans to expand its car-sharing service Car2Go to 12 more cities this year.
Daimler has been piloting its Car2Go service in a variety of cities in Germany as well as the U.S. for months, including Austin, Texas; San Diego, Calif.; and Vancouver, Canada. Originally launched in Ulm, Germany, Car2Go allows registered members to rent a Smart Fortwo car by the minute, hour or day and then return it to any unoccupied parking space within a set area. It’s similar to Zipcar (s ZIP) or CityCarShare, but it’s run by the automaker.
Daimler also pushed its ride-sharing app, CarTogether, at CES. The app enables potential riders to connect with drivers, essentially using the web and mobile to increase carpooling. Startup Zimride has a similar service.
These two applications aren’t necessarily in conflict with Daimler’s core car-selling business. As GigaOM Pro Green IT analyst Adam Lesser put it a couple of months ago in his column:
Rather than fight, the automakers are accepting that car sharing is part of a larger cultural shift in which consumers are less enamored with ownership and more enamored with services. And if car sharing truly becomes a widespread cultural phenomenon, the automotive companies best positioned in terms of car sharing will exert greater influence over what model of car consumers drive.
Services like these are a good way for Daimler to create a test bed for new services and cars. In addition, car sharing can act as marketing for the next generation of car owners.
For example, Car2Go launched the first all-electric vehicle car-sharing fleet in San Diego in a partnership with San Diego Gas and Electric and ECOtality. Car2Go CEO Nicholas Cole explained his logic to Adam:
In city centers people aren’t going to have two or three cars in the future. I think all the manufacturers are looking out at the horizon at what’s next and logical. The fact that we manufacture the vehicle would be an advantage. It’s our product, we’re getting people exposed to Daimler products.
As Daimler’s chairman, Dieter Zetsche, said at CES, “Connectivity is key,” and “it’s like a social network on the road.”