GM, RelayRides, OnStar Partner in New Car Sharing Program

On Tuesday, GM, OnStar, and peer-to-peer car-sharing service RelayRides teamed up to give 6 million OnStar subscribers the ability to instantly rent out their vehicles through the RelayRides marketplace. RelayRides users will be able to access their reserved cars using any mobile device.

“It’s very exciting,” Shelby Clark, RelayRides founder and chief community officer, says of the deal. “It’s great to be working with the largest automaker in the U.S. We get their weight, reach, and influence behind us.”

The partnership represents the first time a major automaker has gotten involved in the rapidly growing peer-to-peer car-sharing market. As consumers living in urban areas increasingly seek out cheaper, greener modes of transport, the car companies are looking for ways to not only cash in, but introduce their brands to a previously untapped portion of the population. “Consumers are increasingly rejecting traditional forms of ownership in favor of access,” Clark explains. “Not everybody wants to buy a car. Car sharing enables GM to build a relationship with consumers, and it allows them to get people in their cars.”

Clark sees car sharing as just another segment of the emerging collaborative economy, where women rent handbags, people rent their apartments to tourists in town for the week, and drivers rent cars by the hour. GM is already touting the opportunity for OnStar subscribers to earn hundreds of dollars per month renting their cars out, thereby offsetting their car payments.

RelayRides was the first outside company granted access to OnStar’s application programming interface (API), and its developers have created a smartphone app to lock and unlock the vehicles, which will be ready in a few weeks. By the end of the summer, OnStar will open its API up to third-party developers.

RelayRides was founded in 2008 in Boston but relocated to San Francisco in 2010. It says it has “thousands of cars in thousands of cities,” including Detroit, and there is no sign-up or annual fee to become a member. Owners decide who rents their cars, so a driver can build up his or her reputation in the RelayRides community by establishing a profile, being a conscientious renter, and posting reviews. A fleet-wide insurance policy covers drivers and car owners, and there is also 24-7 roadside assistance available.

Clark says the first OnStar-enabled vehicle for sharing was in, of all places, Omaha, NE, which he describes as “not your typical car-sharing market.” Thanks to the partnership with GM, he says the RelayRides car-sharing network will stretch from Alaska to Florida. He adds that since GM has such a strong footprint in Detroit, we can expect the metro area to be a robust car-sharing market. (Sign up to be a member here.)

Clark says OnStar also provides something not seen before in car-sharing: That eye-in-the-sky type of safety and monitoring. “OnStar provides additional peace of mind,” he says. “This is the safest and easiest car sharing has ever been.”

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