Starting today, Seattleites have a new way to get around town, while companies like Car2go and Uber now have new competition.
BMW on Friday launched its one-way car-sharing service ReachNow in the Seattle region, allowing people to use the free-floating vehicles as a method of transportation.
The service brings an alternative to Car2go, the popular car-sharing service in Seattle that works very much like ReachNow: Customers use a smartphone app (iOS, Android) to find available vehicles, hop in a car, drive to their destination, and park in any legal city parking spot. Fuel, insurance, and parking costs are included.
BMW labels its service as “premium,” with 370 ReachNow vehicles available in Seattle — a mix of BMW 3 Series, MINI Cooper, and all-electric BMW i3 cars (range of 130 miles; BMW takes care of charging). GeekWire initially spotted several i3 vehicles around town in February as BMW ran beta tests for the program.
Seattle is the first launch city for ReachNow and will also be home to the ReachNow North American headquarters. The launch comes six months after BMW suspended an electric car sharing pilot program called DriveNow in San Francisco, ending that experiment due to parking permit regulations in the city that prevent car-sharing programs from parking vehicles on public streets. BMW also already operates DriveNow services in Europe.
“I am pleased that with the establishment of the ReachNow brand, we are able to offer our customers in Seattle ‘on-demand mobility’ — mobility when it’s needed, from one single source,” Peter Schwarzenbauer, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, said in a statement. “With this service, we are building up on Drive Now, our extremely successful European business model, and bringing it up to a new level in the U.S. Seattle is an innovative, internationally-oriented city which makes it the perfect location to launch these services.”
Speaking at an event in Seattle, Schwarzenbauer noted how BMW wants to lead the way when it comes to innovative car-sharing services.
“We want to shape the individual premium mobility service of tomorrow,” he said. “We don’t want to be shaped. We want to shape it ourselves.”
Here are a few exterior and interior photos of the i3, showing its in-car navigation system:
Here’s the 3 series:
And the MINI Cooper, which come in 2- and 4-door models:
There are also a host of other related services planned for Seattle this year, including a chauffeur service that will be a direct competitor to Uber and Lyft. BMW will also have ReachNow vehicles available at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport next quarter, giving arriving passengers another way to get home in addition to public transportation and now, Uber and Lyft.
Schwarzenbauer noted that the chauffeur service will offer a more “premium experience” than Uber or Lyft with vehicles that BMW own, versus personal cars driven by Uber and Lyft drivers.
“We think this is a completely different level of quality,” he said.
Other services that will launch in 2016 include the ability to have a car delivered to your location; long-term rentals; car-sharing for residential and corporate groups; and the ability for BMW and MINI Cooper owners to rent out their personal vehicles to ReachNow.
“We are moving car-sharing to the next level,” Schwarzenbauer said today, adding that “whatever your needs are with mobility, BMW will fulfill it.”
BMW is also partnering with the University of Washington for its new Mobility Innovation Center that brings together local government, the private sector and academic transportation experts to develop innovative solutions that improve the regional transportation infrastructure.
Schwarzenbauer stressed that he hoped BMW’s i3 vehicles will help customers realize that electric cars are actually fun to drive.
“It’s important for us to show them that electric driving can be very, very sexy,” he said. “It’s nothing boring; it’s extremely thrilling.”
I had to chance to take the i3 for a spin and indeed, it packs a punch. The car has more zip than Car2go’s vehicle, and I also liked the regenerative braking system, which slows the car down when you lift off the accelerator and prevents the need to use the brake so much.
BMW plans to launch ReachNow, which uses technology powered by San Francisco startup RideCell, in three additional cities this year, with plans to eventually service 10 North American metros.
Here’s where you’ll be able to find and park ReachNow vehicles in Seattle, which you can reserve up to 30 minutes in advance, and for as long as 96 hours. This “Home Area” will expand soon, BMW said:
Here are some pricing details:
- $0.49 per minute while vehicle is used ($0.41 per minute for limited time at launch)
- $0.30 per minute while parked
- $39 registration fee (free for limited time at launch)
- Automatic price caps at 3 hours ($50), 12 hours ($80), and 24 hours ($110)
Users can download the app and register with a driver’s license and credit card. “You could be approved and driving within minutes,” BMW notes. After registering, BMW will send you a Member Key card that functions as the car key, locking and unlocking available vehicles.
Here are a few screenshots showing how the app works when reserving a vehicle:
Meanwhile, Car2Go, which is owned by Daimler AG, maker of Mercedes Benz, has made a big mark in Seattle since its launch here three years ago. Its white and blue mini vehicles are spotted on many city streets, and last year the company announced citywide expansion plans that included adding another 250 vehicles. Seattle is Car2go’s largest U.S. market, with more than 75,000 members and 750 vehicles.
“The program has been wildly successful,” Transportation Committee Chair Tom Rasmussen said last year.
That expansion was enabled by legislation approved by the Seattle City Council in January 2015, which also cleared the way for up to three additional companies to launch car-sharing services in the city — thus why BMW is now in Seattle. Each car-sharing company can receive 500 permits to start, and up to 750 if they agree to provide service across the city.
Here’s a statement from Car2go, which offers service in nine U.S. cities, four cities in Canada, and several others across Europe:
As the sharing economy goes mainstream, we expect followers to see what we saw when we launched here in 2012. Seattle is a great city for carsharing, and we’ve cultivated a 75,000 strong membership here. One-way carsharing is a complex business to operate, and any new competitor will have a significant learning curve to contend with. Having said that, we believe the more mass transit, carsharing and ridesharing options people have to get around, the better because services like car2go alleviate traffic and parking congestion and improves quality of life.
Car2go’s pricing is similar: $35 registration fee, $0.41 per minute, $14.99 per hour, $84.99 per day.
Schwarzenbauer noted that ReachNow differs from Car2go with its premium vehicles and what will eventually be a wider range of offerings.
“The service we will offer is completely different than just car-sharing,” he said. “We would see ourselves right now as the only one to be on the market which tries to cover every need you might have in your mobility life.”
The Seattle Department of Transportation released data last month showing how in 2015, “car-share users may have given up approximately 9,100 vehicles with approximately 4,550 of them related directly to the availability of free-floating car share services.”
Schwarzenbauer noted today that BMW has an “outstanding relationship” with Seattle’s transportation officials, who were “open to all our ideas.”
“They welcomed us with open arms,” he said on Friday.
Also speaking at the launch event on Friday was Kate Joncas, deputy mayor of Seattle.
“We are just thrilled you chose Seattle and we will do everything possible to show that you made the right decision to launch here and have your ReachNow headquarters here,” she said.
Joncas added that “these car-sharing services are a big part of where we’re going in the future” and praised BMW for offering 70 i3 electric vehicles, noting the city’s new Drive Clean Seattle initiative.
“They help us go places comfortably and affordably,” she said of services like ReachNow and Car2go.