Car2Go, an inexpensive rent-by-the-minute “Smart Car,” has been wildly popular in Seattle. Since its launch at the beginning of the year, I can find no less than three and sometimes as much as six within a quarter mile of my house. What is happening?

By any sales measure, the car2go model is very successful. Consumers love them because they are easy to use, easy to find, cost-effective (38 cents per minute with a maximum cap per hour), and small enough to park nearly anywhere (with paid parking no less). And car2go is gaining a lot of media attention and acquiring new members (customers) at a rapid clip. I’m about to join them.  

Car2Go, is owned by Daimler AG, the parent owner of Smart. Daimler started offering car2go in Europe in 2008. Car2Go has begun offering member services in San Diego, Austin, Portland and Seattle. Daimler offers its San Diego members all-electric Smart Cars.

In Seattle, all of the Smart car2go vehicles are gasoline-powered. It may be an interesting experiment: are the gasoline powered vehicles here so wildly popular because they are accessible nearly anywhere and not limited to access to a charging station or at least a 110v outlet? While an all electric Smart Car would reduce greenhouse gases more than a gasoline-powered Smart Car, the gasoline-powered Smart Car gets approximately 36 miles to the gallon (non diesel version). Driving even a short distance is not an environmental equivalent for walking or riding a bike, but far more environmentally-friendly than taking the “big vehicle” (think SUV or large sedan) to get a traveler (or two) from point A to a short distance point B.

Car2Go seems to be so popular in my neighborhood to go that “last transit mile” or a short distance (the grocery store, for example). But there are two trends that might cause pause for others than Car2Go. These are: (1) more urban, or possibly non-urban, consumers may decide that they don’t need a second vehicle and can more readily rely on mass transit, and (2) so called “millennials” (the Millennium generation or “Gen Y generation”) don’t appear to want or need a personal car as an extension of their persona or “personal brand.” While these trends are great for the environment, automobile manufacturers (other than Daimler) might have much to worry from the very sizeable millennials, in general, and car2go millennial members, in specific, or adopt a similar “rental” model.