Share Now, operator of the car2go car-sharing service, will end operations in North America on Feb. 29, leaving Seattle with no free-floating car-sharing services — a dramatic turn in a city that helped to pioneer new car-sharing services.
The joint venture between Daimler and BMW announced Wednesday that it will exit the North American market and shut down in London, Brussels, and Florence.
Share Now’s car2go was the first free-floating car-sharing service to launch in Seattle, debuting in late 2012. It was also the last hold-out as competitors including ReachNow and LimePod shut down in the city over the past few months.
In a statement released Wednesday, the joint venture attributed its exit to “two extremely complicated realities.” Share Now blamed the “volatile state of the global mobility landscape” and difficulty navigating complicated infrastructure challenges unique to North American transportation.
High-tech cities like Seattle have become test labs for new mobility services, from e-bikes to car-sharing. New mobility is a fast-moving industry in which innovations can take over cities only to go belly-up a few months later. It’s a phenomenon that has already played out in Seattle and abroad. Experts don’t believe these experiments are over, but what has happened in Seattle illustrates how difficult it is to operate this type of service economically — despite its popularity with customers.
Share Now offers two car-sharing services: car2go and DriveNow. Share Now said it is exiting the three European cities because of low adoption rates. The company plans to continue offering service in 18 other European cities.
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“We, along with our shareholders, believe these markets show the clearest potential for profitable growth and mobility innovation,” Share Now said.
Steve Banfield, former CEO of ReachNow, told GeekWire that the move reflected the economic realities of the market.
“It’s not surprising as the BMW/Daimler has been focused on improving the profitability of their European operations,” he said. “North America is a tough mobility market due to geographic scale, the limitations of public transit in many cities and the ubiquity of alternatives like Uber and Lyft. As long as ride share companies are keeping prices artificially low it will be harder for car-sharing alternatives to succeed here.”
Car2go was a first-mover in American car-share, launching in Seattle in 2012. It would be four years until ReachNow decided to get in on the action.
Longtime users of car-sharing services reacted with dismay. “I’ve lived here for years without owning a car, this will make it significantly harder to do that,” Ben Roth, a programmer and musician in Seattle, wrote on Twitter.
Car2go is the latest in a series of casualties of free-floating car-share in the U.S. In September, Lime ended its LimePod pilot, a program offered only in Seattle. The bike- and scooter-share company tested car-sharing in Seattle for a year before ultimately deciding to focus on its core offerings.
Lime’s announcement came on the heels of ReachNow’s Seattle exit. ReachNow was another free-floating car-share service offered by the BMW-Daimler joint venture. The operation abruptly shut down in Seattle and Portland in July.
At the height of the free-floating car-share craze, Seattle had three such services, more than most American cities. But in February it will have none, as the last of car2go’s Mercedes vehicles are removed from city streets.
Seattle is still home to similar services like Zipcar, Getaround, and Turo. But Zipcar requires drivers to leave and pick up vehicles in designated spots. Getaround functions more like Airbnb, allowing car owners to rent out their vehicles for short-term use. Free-floating car-share services allowed drivers to rent cars near them and drop them off at their destinations.
Share Now sent the following email out notifying customers of the closure:
SHARE NOW, in conjunction with its shareholders at Daimler AG and The BMW Group, has decided to exit the North American market effective February 29, 2020. This will result in the closure of the following cities in which we currently operate: Montreal, New York, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Vancouver.
This decision was made based on two extremely complicated realities. The first being the volatile state of the global mobility landscape, and the second being the rising infrastructure complexities facing North American transportation today and the associated costs needed to sustain operations here.
While we had remained hopeful that we would be able to come to a solution – especially these last few months – we are ultimately not in a position to commit to the level of investment necessary to make the North American market successful both in the near and long term.
In addition to the North American closures, SHARE NOW will also cease operations in three locations in Europe as a result of low adoption rates. Those cities are Florence, London and Brussels. Moving forward, SHARE NOW will focus on our remaining European cities in which we, along with our shareholders, believe show the greatest potential for profitable growth and mobility innovation.
We are saddened by this decision and cannot express enough our appreciation for every employee, customer, business partner and city stakeholder who has supported us throughout the years in North America. We offer our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience this decision will cause you when service ends on February 29, 2020.