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We have come a long way since Nicole Cugnot’s Fardier à Vapeur, the world’s first automobile. Sadly, the idea died a painful death. Like it or not, the automobile industry is at a historical crossroad. People worldwide are shunning the idea of owning a car, especially in densely packed urban areas. Owning a car in Tokyo is nothing short of a nightmare. Indian metros like Mumbai and Delhi are steadily sprinting towards a saturation point. The warning bells are ringing as our cities are unable to accommodate the colossal number of vehicles being added on the streets each year, thanks to the increasing number of people migrating to these megalopolis.

Can Car Sharing Help?

As much as the automobile tsars try to fight it, the world needs to move away from the idea of car ownership. Car sharing or Self Drive Car Rentals as its popularly known in India has gained great momentum in Europe and America. The motor car has become an indispensable part of our society and we can’t imagine our lives without it. But consider, for a moment, the fact that a typical car lies idle for over 90% of its existence. Now think of the hundreds of idle cars you bypass every day as you drive down to work. What would be the impact on traffic congestion, parking space and environment if we were to shun the idea of buying a car today? So what happens to our car when it lies parked in our garage? It simply eats into our investment as it depreciates in value each day.

Think Of Cars As An Earning Member Of Your Family

Car sharing creates a collaboratively-shared fleet available for use by anyone at any time, thanks to the revolution ushered by the Internet and that’s only a part of what makes car sharing so interesting. The concept of peer-to-peer car rentals has gained popularity amongst the urban masses in the USA, UK, Japan, France and Australia. The idea is simple but brilliant. Rent your car when its idle and transform the motor car from a depreciating asset to an earning member of your family.

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Trust- The Ultimate Conundrum

The idea of renting a personal car might seem ridiculous. Forget the legal hurdles for now. The prime concern is trust. How can we have faith on a stranger with something as privy as our car?

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Let’s go back 8 years into the past. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia struggled to convince investors that their bed and breakfast was the next big idea to disrupt the global accommodation business. Today, their company Airbnb happens to be one of the fastest growing corporate entities with services in over 190 countries. If we can overcome the fear of letting strangers into our private homes, then surely something could be done for our cars as well?

Thankfully, the technology we have today could work wonders. Leasing cars would be a walk in the park if we knew how good our prospective customers were at driving. Obviously there would be cases of unexpected mishaps but building trust would definitely be easier with statistical data to back the person’s driving prowess.

The Road Ahead

Uber has simplified the process of hiring a car to an extent where hiring taxis for a short distance commute on a regular basis turns out to be cheaper than owning a car. However, if you’re in a hurry and need to hit multiple locations one after the other, the economics doesn’t work out. The right balance between car sharing and cabs might actually be the solution to our congestion and environmental problems. If the automobile industry desires to escape the fate of Cugnot’s machine, it needs to adapt. But the question is – can we alter our aspirations and move towards a better future?

It does not take a genius to figure out that as we advance to the era of autonomous vehicles we shall witness a convergence of cab hailing services like Uber and Ola, and car sharing services. Companies which are technologically equipped to facilitate this conjunction will shape the future of urban transport.

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