Daimler's All-Electric Car Share Program Takes Over Amsterdam's Streets

You may wonder why a metals-focused journal like MetalMiner covers renewable industries and so-called green technologies like electric vehicles; we do too, as we have even debated the subject internally at times.

But just as Caterpillar’s or John Deere’s fortunes tell us a story about metals demand, so too does that of the electric car market, and if one comment underlines that more than any other it could be the following from a Financial Times article this week: “Car2go’s programs average five to 10 drivers per car each day ¦ experts estimate that each shared car replaces four to 10 private cars.

Taken to its conclusion, that statement, if true, could have a significant impact on car production. Car2go is the German carmaker Daimler’s shared car program, already active in six cities in North America and Europe, but Amsterdam is the first all-electric venture.

The firm uses two-seat all-electric Smart cars and chose Amsterdam because of the city’s $10 million investment in electric charging points. The city plans to have 350 charging locations by the end of this year and to encourage uptake will provide free power up to April of next year.

Car sharing programs hold open one of the most likely entry points for most users’ adoption of all-electric cars. Car sharing membership has tripled worldwide between 2006 and 2010 to more than 1.2 million users. Naturally enough, the uptake is almost wholly within city areas where ownership has less attractions and users only need intermittent access to a vehicle.

For the city a car-sharing scheme, particularly with all-electric vehicles, has certain attractions zero pollution in the densely urbanized city center, reduced car-parking needs, the use of small cars over SUVs or large sedans which reduces congestion, and so on. Car sharing programs are always going to be more successful in confined city-scapes than in suburban or rural areas, and nowhere more likely than in Europe’s cities, many of which have evolved from medieval times when city designers did not have to cope with the demands of the motor car.

So the number of locations in which programs like Car2go will be commercially viable are limited, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility that just about every major and more than a few middling European cities could be viable. If that encouraged users to opt not to own, or to own just one car instead of two, an impact on car sales may be measurable.

For the foreseeable future, the number of users in a city will remain very much in the minority, but as part of a long-term trend it may, with time and the emergence of a more flexibly transport-minded generation, become significant.

–Stuart Burns

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