Car sharing in Europe went mainstream in 2013 as consumer awareness snowballed and more global automakers joined the sector.
"We've seen a breakthrough in acceptance," said Wolfgang Booms, Ford of Europe's executive director of fleet sales and re-marketing. "Now is the right time to get into the market if you want part of this business."
Experts say the prognosis for 2014 looks equally promising, especially for companies that aim their services at corporate customers. Car companies, however, will need to see themselves as tech groups and should try to own some part of the information technology solutions they provide or they risk being relegated to the role of commodity provider, said advanced mobility group leader Jean Francois Tremblay at consultancy EY. "The mobility part will come before you even enter the car," Tremblay said.
Ford is one of the automakers to roll out car-sharing fleets last year in Europe, where demand for the service is expected to grow to 15 million users by 2020 from about 1.7 million now, according to analysts at Frost & Sullivan. Ford competes with automakers such as PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, BMW, Daimler, Toyota and Volkswagen.
Both BMW's DriveNow and Daimler's Car2Go car-sharing services are profitable in several European cities, company executives said. However, profitability, at this stage, is not the point. The long-term growth in car sharing is driven by a mix of factors. The "shared economy" model that first emerged in the music industry is now being adopted by young consumers for "underused assets" from homes to power tools. Said Lisa Jerram, a senior analyst at Navigant Research: "In 2013, the carmakers saw that this is a group of potential customers that aren't going to go the traditional route."