Carsharing was all the rage a few years ago, and then especially electric carsharing … and then the trend faded. In the city where we lived in Poland just a few years ago, a big electric carsharing program launched. It closed down last year. The same thing has happened in many locations, and some of the biggest names in the industry have faded away. However, I am still in love with the idea and hugely appreciated a carsharing program I used for a few years when I was younger. Volkswagen, also, isn’t giving up on the idea. In fact, it just expanded its WeShare program into Hamburg, Germany.
This expansion was indeed delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has been a business killer for various types of transportation programs and services — due to people staying home much more than before and due to people wanting (and needing) to keep a distance from others, especially in small spaces.
Perhaps Volkswagen still sees a lot of potential in this market. Perhaps it seems competitors departing and a good opening for dominance in certain regions. Perhaps it loves the concept enough to push through when others are falling off. Whatever the reason, Volkswagen, keep going! You have my support, and I am sure the support of millions of people who would still rather participate in a carsharing program than own a car.
Volkswagen does indicate that it’s been having some success in the city where WeShare launched two years ago. “Volkswagen Group has already succeeded in doing this with the WeShare pilot project in Berlin since 2019 – so successfully, in fact, that fully electric car sharing will now also be possible in Hamburg from February 25,” the company writes. WeShare has more than 100,000 members in Berlin. Approximately half of them use WeShare at least once a month.
The Hamburg program will include ~800 Volkswagen ID.3s. That should provide good cover and availability for the city of ~1.8 million.
As part of the news, Volkswagen actually opened up about the coronavirus hit. “In 2019, WeShare was launched in Berlin. Corona came shortly after. ‘We had drops in rentals of around 50 percent in March 2020, in the first few weeks after the lockdown. During that time, there was virtually no ordinary demand for mobility,’ says Philipp Reth.” Reth is the CEO of WeShare. Reth is my kind of guy, keeping a positive outlook despite the challenges and looking for quick solutions. “But crises always offer opportunities, too — if you only seize them,” he said. “We reacted quickly at the time, temporarily expanding the business area, reducing the stopover price, i.e. the price while parking, to five cents and, for example, distributing vouchers to staff at the Charité hospital, German Red Cross clinics and the Berlin accident and emergency hospitals.”
The German auto company noted that Charité hospital employees used WeShare 25,000 times! The cars transporting them to and from work, or to run some errands, travelled a quarter of a million kilometers for the hospital staff. Talk about a feel-good story in a time of difficulty. It’s a good thing Volkswagen didn’t take the easy way out and just fold for the time being. It’s uplifting that the company had the foresight and humanity to provide vouchers to staff at the Charité hospital, German Red Cross clinics, and Berlin accident and emergency hospitals.
The effort also paid off from a business sense. “We gained many new fans and loyal users for WeShare,” Reth said. “By the end of 2020, we had twice as many customers and utilizations as before the crisis began.” Not many companies — especially in the transport sector — found a way to expand their businesses during the pandemic and economic shutdowns. I expect we’ll see more notable leadership from Reth in the years to come.
Actually, while sharing products may not seem ideal in a pandemic, the much bigger concern is being close to others in enclosed spaces. Therefore, carsharing may seem like a great alternative to using mass transit, a mode of transport that’s very common and widespread in Europe. Volkswagen appears to agree that, despite the initial hit from people staying home, carsharing ended up being a winning transport option. “In these times of crisis, many people see car sharing as a safe and reliable addition to their mobility. For good reasons: The vehicles are within walking distance. In addition, the cleaning and disinfection intervals of the vehicles have been shortened. According to Reth, there was no reluctance or fear to use the vehicles during the pandemic.” So, is it time for an electric carsharing revival? And where will WeShare expand next?
For more info or to become a member, check out the WeShare website.