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OnStar Reaches "Hire" Ground

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author photo by Colin Ryan October 2011

This could be one of those ideas that seem like a good thing at first but when we look back on it in a few years' time, we might wonder how they ever thought it would fly. The "they" in this instance is General Motors along with a company called RelayRides, and the idea is sharing your automotive pride and joy with complete strangers.

Bob Tiderington, GM's manager of new business development, would rather describe it as "collaborative consumption." It works like this: car owners and would-be renters register with RelayRides. A renter locates an available vehicle nearby and has the ability to open it using a smartphone application or similar mobile technology, whereupon an ignition key is found, having been stashed in a specific place.

The owner charges by the hour ($10 is quoted as an average figure, but RR's website has some starting at $5). RelayRides takes 35 percent yet also provides $1 million of insurance, so the lender's insurance is unaffected if a borrower is involved in an accident.

RelayRides calls itself "the world's first peer-to-peer car sharing marketplace." Where General Motors comes in is through the use of its proprietary OnStar communications system, which is fitted to most of GM's current products and is now available to vehicles from other manufacturers as well. Cars with OnStar can slot right into RelayRides' setup, whereas those without it need to be fitted with special equipment that deals with locking, immobilizing the engine (it won't start without a reservation), vehicle location and mileage logging.

"With the new GM relationship, RelayRides can leverage OnStar technology to make car sharing even more convenient, with nothing more than a mobile app," said Andre Haddad, CEO of RelayRides.

"We're using technology to make both our older and newest models ready and available for those owners who choose to participate in car sharing," said Stephen J. Girsky, GM's vice chairman of corporate strategy and business development. "Our goal is to find ways to broaden our customer reach, reduce traffic congestion in America's largest cities and address urban mobility concerns."

They say "car sharing" but it's really short-term car hire. RelayRides is already up and running in Boston and San Francisco, and is looking to expand (the company is in talks regarding investment from GM). RR claims that the average owner is clearing about $250 a month from this scheme. Even those who lease their cars have a chance of getting in on the action. "While you may want to double-check the language of your lease, the vast majority of the time it is fine," says the company's website. It's free to register with RR and OnStar subscriptions start at $18.95 a month. This joint venture with GM puts its metaphorical toe in the water early next year in San Francisco.

It's an idea that might have legs, or wheels. According to Innovative Mobility Research, an agency that looks into "the social and environmental impacts of transportation," car sharing has grown in two years from 400,000 users to 640,000. Market research company Frost & Sullivan predicts that number will rise to 4.4 million by 2016. This could be an easy way for your car to make money, instead of standing idle for most of the working day.

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OnStar Reaches "Hire" Ground - Autotrader