Toyota (NYSE:TM) has become the latest company to bet on a car-sharing model created by a startup. The company has announced making a $10 million strategic investment through its Mirai Creation Investment Limited Partnership in SF-based car sharing provider Getaround. Getaround was the winner of TechCrunch’s Disrupt Battlefield startup competition in New York in 2011. The platform allows car owners to rent out their own vehicles when they’re not in use to help offset the cost of car ownership.
The investment in Getaround is a sign that Toyota is interested in expanding into car-sharing. Beginning January 2017, Getaround will leverage Toyota’s Smart Key Box technology in its vehicles so drivers do not need to use physical car keys. The Bluetooth-enabled device allows users to unlock and start the engine of a car using just their smartphone. The device will enable any current vehicle out on the road to be shared and accessible through a mobile device.
A vehicle owner can place the Smart Key Box on their dashboard or in the trunk, cup holder, or glove compartment, no modification needed. When they want to share their car, the car-share customer is sent a code via an app to access the box. The codes are authenticated via Bluetooth when the smartphone is brought near the vehicle. The company claims the information is all encrypted. Toyota will set and manage the time and duration of the Smart Key Box access, based on the vehicle reservation.
The new car-sharing technology will be tested in a limited pilot in San Francisco next year. Only people who own the new Prius or any model Lexus can participate in the pilot. Based on the success of the pilot, Getaround indicated there were intentions to expand into other markets in the future. Getaround chief executive Sam Zaid said, “Our mission is to empower people to carshare everywhere.”
Car-sharing has been growing increasingly popular, especially in urban areas where having a car available all of the time is unnecessary. Carmakers have invested a lot of money in alternatives to individual ownership. General Motors recently launched its own car-sharing service called Maven. BMW has ReachNow in Seattle and Ford has GoDrive in London. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, owns Car2Go. The space will probably get more competitive or see consolidation in the near future.
Beginning in January 2017, Toyota’s financial services wing will allow Toyota car lessees to make payments on their vehicle directly from their Getaround earnings. Under the terms of the contract, car owners will have a 36-month term that allows up to 15,000 miles per year. Toyota will also offer new vehicles, beginning with premium Lexus cars, for rental via Getaround.