Car companies now do more than just sell cars. General Motors’ Maven division takes on the likes of Zipcar with car-sharing services using GM vehicles, and even rents cars to Uber and Lyft drivers through its Maven Gig program. So, what’s it like for an automaker to go from selling cars to renting them?
New York City is one of the least convenient cities in the United States for car owners, and it was also one of the first cities where GM experimented with car sharing. Digital Trends sat down with Brent Taylor, Maven general manager for New York, to discuss what GM has learned about car sharing so far, and how it’s preparing for the future.
DT: How long has Maven been operating in New York?
Brent Taylor: We launched Maven New York City in May of 2017. We started out the morning of May 15. We had 600 members under a pilot program we’d run the year before in conjunction with a property developer here, just offering exclusive vehicles to their clients. It was Stonehenge [Partners]; we still work with them quite extensively. Today, through mostly organic growth, we have 15,500 customers in New York City, who have logged over 850,000 miles—just in New York.
What mix of cars do you have in the fleet right now, and what would you say is the most popular car in New York City?
A little bit of everything. We focused, on the launch, between the Chevrolet and Cadillac lines as a way of introducing Maven to our customers without giving so much to overwhelm [them]. You either had a very reliable utility vehicle or a luxury vehicle.
The most popular
vehicle is the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback. People love that little car.
With the nuance in New York City, we had to think about these things going down Brooklyn streets. They all had to have a robust suspension system in them. There’s a reason cop cars are Impalas!
So we did a range of basically a sampling from the Chevy Cruze all the way up to the Cadillac Escalade, and just about an inkling of everything in between: small SUVs, [Chevy] Traxes, Equinoxes, and lots of [Cadillac] XT5s.
The most popular vehicle, the workhorse of the fleet, is the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback. People love that little car.
Do you see much transitioning, where people who try out a GM vehicle through Maven end up buying from GM. Is there any coordination between Maven and sales departments to try to make that happen?
Really, GM is more experimenting with the future landscape of mobility. We hope we touch the cross section. We don’t have a master plan to convert customers into purchasing. It’s a way to serve that interim need.
With the free membership to Maven, downloading the app, that’s the big ROI [return on investment]. Whether you need it or not, it’s free to have it. There’s no ROI on, hey, if it was $80 bucks to sign up, “am I going to use it twice this year? I don’t think I’m going mess with it.” That’s the great thing.
Or, if you saw something, somebody like you comes to a car show and you see the new Tahoe and you want to give that a spin, you know, there’s four of them in Manhattan right now. So, [you can] take it out for an hour and see if you like it.
Would you say that customers use cars for shorter trips or that they go on longer excursions out to, the suburbs, or out to the country? What do you think is the more average use case?
During the week, we’re going to Costco, we’re going to Ikea. We’re going to places where it’s really hard to navigate once you have what you need. Going to stock up on things.
“Maven globally focuses on a younger demographic who may not be interested in buying a car straight of college, or out of high school, even. But [for] Maven New York City, all bets are off.”
Maven globally focuses on a younger demographic who may not be interested in buying a car straight of college, or out of high school, even. But [for] Maven New York City, all bets are off. You can be 21 or you can be 61 and not own a car, because it’s extremely prohibitive.
We find during the summer, yeah, they go Upstate, they go out to Long Island, people go to Jersey to visit their families, and hit the Shore in New Jersey as well. But on the day-to-day trips, we’re going to the airport, we’re going to the Ikea, we’re filling that utility need.
Looking at data and feedback from users, what changes would you make to future GM production vehicles to make them more suited to car sharing?
That’s really a fundamental goal of Maven, is capturing that data. We haven’t crossed all of the Ts on that just yet. When you’re talking about GM and the zero, zero, zero plan [GM’s goal of zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion], how do you put that into an electric chassis?
A lot of people with electric cars are just terrified with this range anxiety that they have, because they have this one trip they’re going to take that’s 400 miles, which rarely happens. And then, you know, educating the consumer on that. And then finding out how long is the average trip, how long should the average charge take place. That is really going mold how GM builds a better product for the consumer.
Will Maven be involved in GM’s rollout of self-driving cars? Are you coordinating with Cruise Automation [GM’s autonomous-driving division] on that, or is that just a separate thing?
Cruise is doing their own thing, and speed to them, we’re hoping, but no, no plans right now. Nothing they’re telling little guys like me about.
What about public transit? How does Maven interact with it? Do you think Maven complements public transit, or competes with it?
I think we’re filling a mobility need, with a city-to-station-based program, which is not filled by public transportation. Given that the vehicles are in a round-trip scenario—they’re not one-way—we don’t feel that we’re [competing]. We don’t want to contribute to the problem, especially in New York. So, the fact that you’re bringing it back to the same station means you’re not just dumping it somewhere and making it that neighborhood’s problem.
As a New Yorker, I wish there was an efficient public way to get to LaGuardia Airport, but there isn’t. This is one of those niches that Maven really fills. And outside of New York in our Maven Gig program, where we’re offering these cars to ride-share drivers, we think that’s very complimentary. When you start talking about multi-pooled trips from ride-share drivers, I think this is the future of efficiency, with that mode of mobility.
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