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According to the daily Japanese newspaper the Aashi Shimbun, two different Japanese car-sharing services (Orix and Times24) discovered that a growing number of their vehicles are being returned with virtually zero mileage. Through customer surveys, they discovered that people are using their cars to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Some people are using a car for a nap during their lunch break. Others are using it as a place to eat lunch. One user described using a car to store their belongings and shopping bags when nearby coin lockers were full. Charging a cell phone was another popular option.
Car sharing, as it turns out, provides a conveniently available personal space.
Now, use cases outside of transportation are certainly unusual and rather unexpected. Is this a regionalized phenomenon or is Japan a trend-setter? Let’s look at a few contributing factors to see.
Pricing and availability
Car sharing appears to be super-convenient and widely popular in Japan. People can rent cars for a short period via their smartphones. It costs less than $4 USD to use one for 30 minutes and a car can be picked up from more than 12,000 parking places.
Some quick googling turns up roughly similar pricing elsewhere. ZipCar in the US starts at $11 per hour and you can find shared cars in Europe for €6 an hour. So, pricing shouldn’t be an inhibiting factor. As for availability, the current leading shared mobility markets are Western Europe and the US so I can’t imagine finding a car is a problem in these markets either.
The denser the urban environment, the greater the possibility of non-driving use cases.
More non-driving use cases
Another Japanese car sharing survey – this one from NTT Docomo – found people are renting cars to watch TV, get dressed for Halloween, practice singing, and even do facial yoga, a popular Japanese practice.
Some of these in-car activities are hard to imagine in North America. This said, naps, lunches, and phone charging are nearly universal, while using a cheap rental car as a storage locker makes good sense. My guess is the denser the urban environment, the greater the possibility of non-driving use cases.
Is there enough demand for private naps, lunch bubbles, or storage lockers to increase car sharing here or abroad? Perhaps, if car sharing companies start taking these alternative zero-mile use cases into account.
If the car doesn’t undergo wear and tear, uses no gasoline, and has no risk of a crash, could the hourly rate be lowered to accommodate people who want to use the car as a private space? Car-sharing companies could even cater to some of these use cases – by providing pillows or napkins, for instance – to possibly capture a market segment that’s as yet under served.
The biggest take-away for me in this story is that using the car for personal space in Japan highlights how the fundamental reason for using a service is always determined by the market. You never truly know how your product will be used until you get it in front of real customers.