A few weeks ago, I went to an event for new web startups in Boston, and one in particular caught my eye: RelayRides. — Basically, take Zipcar, and subtract the provided vehicle fleet. You instead drive your friend's (or a complete stranger's) car… for an hourly rate.
Fuel and insurance are included at no additional charge, just like with Zipcar. Rates start at just $6 USD/hour. — The biggest difference is that if you own a vehicle, you can rent it to others by having a transponder installed. They'll provide a $1-million insurance policy, and by participating you can earn “between $4,500 USD and $8,000 USD” per-year, apparently.
However, I personally don't think that this idea is going to go anywhere:
- If someone can afford to buy a car (of any cost), they probably wouldn't be purchasing it just to put on the service. I may be surprised by people's actions here, but wouldn't you just buy a cheaper car that you can keep nice and all to yourself? — Maybe if parking is expensive regardless, you could recoup some of the cost this way? 🤔
- I don't know if I would want a complete stranger driving my car (or even some of my friends… for that matter), considering the amount of comprehensive damage or pre-mature wear that could occur and go unnoticed for too long, resulting in difficult to recoup costs with RelayRides getting all of the gains at my car's and my own expense. — Traditional rental car companies generally rent out nearly brand-new vehicles to avoid doing a lot of maintenance.
- Lack of an “initial push,” and the threat of dealing with a seriously two-sided marketplace. — Where are the cars they're offering right now? Unlike Zipcar, who provides vehicles themselves that were financed through VC investment, RelayRides' business model is sourcing vehicles from their customers… a path with potentially much slower growth and tremendously more friction. Even if customers want to use the service to borrow vehicles, they'll be disappointed whenever the two-sided marketplace cannot provide.
- Lack of on-car advertising. — The reason I know about Zipcar is because I saw their cars driving around with branded stickers all over them. One benefit to using someone else's car through RelayRides instead is potentially that it's not marketed as a car that can be shared, but this is also an obvious and significant disadvantage for the company. The sheer amount of marketing dollars required to reach the same audience that Zipcar has actively reached with a few pennies worth of vinyl-lettering per vehicle is staggering.
… I just don't think that this'll make it.