Four months after RelayRides introduced its "peer-to-peer" car sharing concept to Philly, the local operation looks pretty dismal. Maybe today's boost from OnStar will jump start the engines.
Unlike Philly Car Share or ZipCar, RelayRides doesn't own a fleet of vehicles. It acts as a conduit and matchmaker for individual car owners to rent out their personal vehicles on an hourly, daily or weekly basis. A search of the local site this morning found 8 nice looking vehicles available within a 1.6 mile radius of my location -including practical haulers like "Rob's (2002) Ford Explorer" ($7.50 an hour/$37.50 a day) and a dress-to-impress 2008 Porsche Cayenne at $19 an hour, $95 a day. But when you go searching a little deeper, the "Philly" car offerings prove totally impractical - situated 20, 30 even 50 miles away,
Today's' technical hookup with the GM OnStar system could bring a lot more cars into the pool. Until now, there had to be a meet up and exchange of keys between the car owner and the renter - which cramps everyone's style. Now, if you own a vehicle equipped with OnStar, you'll be able to transact business on a mobile phone or computer - giving an electronic "okay" by text message to open the car door when the renter reaches the vehicle (with the car key hidden inside.) OnStar also will track the vehicle's movements and be able to literally slow and then shut the car down, if not returned as scheduled.
It takes just five minutes for a car owner with an active OnStar subscription to add the vehicle to RelayRides' rental pool and have it advertised on line. "The experience is seamless and intutitive," said OnStar VP of business development Nick Ruder. And potentially quite profitable. RelayRides takes just a small chunk of the "action" for running the site, pre-screening users and backing each rental with a $1 million liability insurance policy.