Car sharing takes off in Germany

Caitlan Reeg Dec 2, 2011

Mitchell Hartman: Car sales are up this year. But not everyone can afford a car, or even wants one. That’s especially true in Europe.

As Caitlan Carroll reports from Berlin, German automakers see potential in the car sharing business.

Caitlan Carroll: A line of young men wait at a Volkswagen shop in Hanover, Germany. They all want to register for VW’s new car share program “Quicar.”

Twenty-one-year-old Felix Curyk plans to visit his parents outside the city, but like many people his age…

Felix Curyk: Don’t have enough money to buy my own car.

So he wants to share one. The VW rep pastes a small electronic chip on Cyruk’s driver’s license. The chip will unlock one of VW’s 200 cars parked throughout the city.

Other German automakers also want to connect with new customers like Curyk. BMW and Daimler have similar car share programs in place throughout Germany. Social science researcher Weert Canzler says it’s a question of demographics.

Weert Canzler: The average age of Daimler customer is more than 50 years. So they have a problem with the young people.

According to a study, more than half of all young men in Germany were car owners a decade ago. Today, that number’s down to a third. Canzler says owning a car isn’t as cool as it once was.

Canzler: We have these small computers. We have these city trips. It is a kind of status symbol to say on Monday, ‘Oh, last weekend I was in Barcelona.’ And you don’t need the car as a status symbol.

To change that, German car companies are resorting to a tried-and-true marketing model: Give customers an opportunity to test drive a product and get ’em while they’re young.

Juergen Osmer heads up marketing for VW’s Quicar program.

Juergen Osmer: I think we would be more than happy if people at the end of the day say, ‘OK I think we like Volkswagen so much that we would like to buy one.’ That would be a really nice benefit on that.

Daimler recently launched a car share program in Austin and it plans to expand to San Diego next year.

In Hanover, Germany, I’m Caitlan Carroll for Marketplace.

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