By MICHAEL TAYLOR
It might be the oil-rich state, but Texas will be the first U.S. home for Daimler’s innovative, environmentally aware car2go pay-as-you-go city-transport concept.
The concept has just moved from the pilot phase to a full-time business for the 120,000 residents of Ulm, Germany, and Daimler has announced that 200 car2go Smart Fortwos will flood downtown Austin this fall.
This isn’t the first car-sharing scheme in the United States, but it might be one of the simplest, and it’s backed by the auto industry’s oldest name. Daimler’s idea for car2go is to make driving through traffic-clogged cities as cheap as talking on a mobile phone.
Loosely based on Paris’s noted Velib city bicycle system, Ulm dwellers or visitors can drive away in any car2go vehicle for 19 cents a minute by showing the car a chip attached to their licenses.
“The idea is that when you want a car, you just take it, and when you’ve finished with the car, you just leave it,” car2go project manager Robert Henrich, said. He said it’s a free-flowing system and you never have to return the car to where you picked it up. “So if you want to cross the city, you just take a car, cross the city and then leave it.”
The Austin trial will start with 200 Fortwo Micro Hybrid Drives for city employees and, to make the system more environmentally friendly, they will use an automatic start-stop function to kill the engine when the cars are stationary.
Daimler hopes that the Austin version will develop like the Ulm project, which began with 50 cars for 500 employees in October 2008, spread to 100 cars for 1,000 users this February and now has 200 cars available for any resident to use any time.
With 750,000 people, Austin is much larger than Ulm, but Austin is known for its open-mindedness, its high cycling rates and its public transportation systems.
“We very much look forward to becoming the first international partner of car2go,” Austin Mayor Will Wynn said.
“Our city is known for its strong sense of environmental responsibility. The project has our full support,” he said.
Jérome Guillen, director of the Business Innovation department at Daimler that developed the car2go concept, said, “We deliberately chose a large American city. In the U.S.A., the car-sharing market has the highest growth rates in the world.
“Membership is free. We’ve taken a lesson from the mobile phone industry and you pay by the minute, which covers all the fuel and insurance costs as well,” he said.
Daimler eventually hopes to have cars within a three-minute walk of every city driver, with a fleet of cleaners keeping them pristine around city streets.
The automaker hinted that the system may upgrade from the fuel-sipping CDI Smart to a fully electric Smart that is being tested in London.