Maven, GM’s Car-Sharing Company, Launches in Toronto
General Motors’ bid to rule whatever comes after the self-driving apocalypse—and the end of private car ownership as we know it—has gone international. Today, the automaker’s in-house car-sharing company, Maven, announced it is expanding to Toronto.
Maven already operates in most major US cities, and now Torontonians will have access to a fleet of 40 cars, including the Chevy Malibu and Volt, GMC Acadia and Yukon, and Cadillac ATS sedan and XT5 crossover, which they can rent by the hour.
The incremental nature of this announcement—and of each minor expansion before it—belies the importance of Maven to GM. Since Maven launched in Ann Arbor in January 2016, the company has been more than a Zipcar competitor. GM sells $150 billion worth of cars every year, and this sort of effort—renting a few dozen cars for $8 an hour—will neither spook nor inspire the accountants. But the he-who-drives-it-buys-it paradigm on which those sales are based is fading, or at least scooching over to make room for a new way.
In other words, GM’s core business—selling cars to people—is on its way out, if slowly. Car-sharing and ride-hailing are already changing how people use vehicles, mostly by making it easier to get along without buying the things. Before long, automation will compound and accelerate that shift. This is what GM CEO Mary Barra has called an “accretive opportunity”—a new way to make money in a competitive business with narrow profit margins. But successfully making that business model shift means successfully shifting the business model. And that takes time and experience.
“The carmakers already have a lot of these pieces in place,” says Sam Abuelsamid, the auto industry analyst behind Navigant’s self-driving “leaderboard,” which ranks the companies racing to deploy autonomous cars. Chief among them, they already know how to build cars. But that’s just one bit of a sprawling jigsaw puzzle.
Maven helps GM with the missing pieces. It offers a look at how people all over the country—and now outside it—use vehicles. How often they rent, where they like to go, what models they prefer. Through its Gig service, Maven also rents vehicles by the week to people who want to drive for the likes of Uber, Lyft, or Grubhub. Maven lets GM figure out how maintain fleets of cars, keeping them in working order, full of fuel, and clean. It’s all need-to-know stuff for a company whose focus has always been getting a person to buy a car, then getting them to come back a few years later for another. A company that wants to do business in a new way.
Other automakers have similar “mobility”-focused enterprises that could accommodate a shift toward providing shared vehicles, along with selling personal ones, Abuelsamid says. Ford acquired on-demand shuttle service Chariot, Daimler bought car2go, BMW has ReachNow.
Under Barra, GM has pledged itself to a future of zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero congestion. The first bit involves electric cars, the second self-driving tech. But to get rid of traffic—without gambling on Elon Musk’s tunnel-happy underworld—you have to reduce the number of cars, which means reducing the number of people who own cars. “Sharing is such a societal need,” says Maven chief Julia Steyn.
As more people come around to this view, especially in cities eager to limit the rubber hitting their roads, GM will need a way to remain relevant—and keep the money coming in. In a shifting landscape, Maven isn’t just a seismograph. It’s a bug-out bag.