Trending: ‘Ultima Thule’ no more: New Horizons’ space snowman is named Arrokoth
BMW’s ReachNow vs. Car2go in Seattle.

Steve Banfield was perfectly happy with his job and colleagues at INRIX, heading up the marketing team at the Kirkland-based traffic data analytics company he joined more than one year ago.

But when a BMW recruiter tracked him down on LinkedIn and asked if he was interested in leading the company’s new car-sharing service, he couldn’t say no.

INRIX CMO Steve Banfield.
BMW ReachNow CEO Steve Banfield.

BMW today appointed Banfield as the CEO of ReachNow, the car-maker’s new free-floating car-sharing program that launched in Seattle last month.

In an interview with GeekWire, Banfield explained that he wasn’t looking for a new gig when BMW found the Seattle-area technology industry veteran.

“It really came down to an opportunity to build a team from the ground up and being able to work within the context of BMW’s products and cars,” he said. “I just couldn’t say no.”

The ReachNow service allows people to use one of 370 free-floating vehicles — a mix of BMW 328xi Series sedans, MINI Coopers, and the all-electric BMW i3 — to get around town from Point A to Point B within a “Home Area” that encompasses much of Seattle proper. GeekWire tested ReachNow in April, and for the most part, we were impressed.

BMW announced Monday that after just one month, there are already more than 13,000 members using the platform. Banfield said that BMW is pleased with the initial traction, noting how Seattle is a good market for the company to roll out ReachNow with a tech-savvy population and ample street parking.

“It’s a good field to plant seeds in,” he noted.

bmwcarsharing11Seattle is the first launch city for ReachNow and is also home to the ReachNow North American headquarters, where Banfield now leads a team of 20 employees and expects to add another 20 people as ReachNow expands to a few other cities this year, and several more in 2017.

While the work at INRIX — which actually counts BMW as one of its biggest customers — was exciting for Banfield, his new role as CEO of ReachNow is a different beast.

The vision for BMW, as Banfield explained, is much more than just the free-floating car-sharing program that has seen early success in Seattle, where the company will soon add an additional 150 vehicles and expand its coverage map.

There are plans to launch a number of other services, including a concierge option where BMW brings you a vehicle, instead of you having to find one yourself; an Uber and Lyft competitor that will allow people to earn revenue by driving other users around in ReachNow cars; a way for people to drop off ReachNow vehicles at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport before boarding a flight, or to pick one up after they get off the plane; or a way for BMW owners to lease their own cars within the ReachNow network.

bmwreachnow11“The idea that BMW is already thinking about these alternative mobility scenarios beyond just free-floating car-sharing was as exciting as anything else,” said Banfield, who previously worked at places like Rightside, Korrio, Screenlife Games, Sony, RealNetworks and Microsoft. “There are a lot of different scenarios and models and ways to present this to consumers.”

Banfield said the aspirations go even further than that, particularly as self-driving innovations continue to ramp up. For example, imagine if all the vehicles in ReachNow’s network were operated by robots.

“That car could come to you and drive itself to wherever you want to go,” he said. “Being able to leverage the technological capabilities and sophistication of BMW in a service like that across North America — the amount of opportunity is just stunning.”

These ideas are part of how BMW expects to differentiate itself from the competition. For now, Daimler-owned Car2go is BMW’s closest competitor in the free-floating car-sharing industry. Car2go has more than 77,000 members in Seattle, its top market in North America.

ReachNow is, for the moment, nearly identical to how Car2go operates. 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.

Inside the i3.
Inside the i3.

But Banfield noted how ReachNow offers a “premium” fleet that includes vehicles with four doors and much more, compared to the smaller two-door Smart Fortwo electric cars. More broadly, he said there is a huge opportunity for companies like Car2go and BMW given how technology is impacting the transportation industry.

“You have ubiquitous high-speed connectivity with smartphones everywhere,” he said. “That allows you to have a pretty complex and sophisticated user experience in someone’s hand, and that’s something we’ve taken advantage of at ReachNow.”

Banfield is also taking on new challenges as ReachNow expands beyond Seattle, like figuring out where to warehouse vehicles and working with local city government.

“It’s not as simple as standing up a web page and running local ads to say we’ve launched in a city,” he said.

But Banfield said he’s confident in his new team that’s made up of BMW veterans and new folks like himself.

“It’s a combination of great inside BMW knowledge and outside experience of building innovative teams and doing things in a startup-like way: quick, rapid, agile,” he said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to GeekWire's free newsletters to catch every headline


Job Listings on GeekWork

Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.