Want to drive a fancy electric vehicle every day without actually leasing or buying one? Now you can—if you live in San Francisco. BMW announced this week the official launch of DriveNow, a carsharing service featuring 70 ActiveE electric vehicles scattered around the city at designated parking spots. The service has been in operation for about a month, but BMW hopes that this week’s second announcement—the launch of ParkNow, a service to help drivers find and secure open parking spots—will make it even more attractive.
The DriveNow service operates much like Zipcar, with a few differences. As with the popular carsharing service, DriveNow members pay a membership fee ($39) and a time-based fee each time a car is taken out ($12 for the first 30 minutes, 32 cents for each minute after). Both services also feature keyless entry, relying on RFID-equipped cards instead. But DriveNow has some distinct advantages: The cars don’t have to be returned to their original location—they can be taken to any designated DriveNow parking spot. And since every one of those spots is equipped with an EV charger, the vehicles always have their full 80 to 100 mile range whenever a user takes them out.
And here’s where ParkNow comes in. The service, which allows anyone with the ParkNow app to reserve and pre-pay for parking spaces in garages around the city (there are 14 locations now with 100 set to be added in the coming weeks), lets users search by preferences—including whether a given parking space is equipped with an EV charger. So if someone using DriveNow for a full day of driving is gripped with range anxiety, they can quickly and easily make a reservation at the nearest charger-equipped parking spot.
ParkNow may already have some competition—Bay Area startup Streetline is rolling out a suite of services across the country to help users find and pay for parking spots, both on the street and in garages.
ParkNow is making its world debut in San Francisco, but DriveNow has been operating for a year in German cities. Not all of the vehicles in the German version of the program are electric, however.
Why launch an all-electric service in San Francisco? "San Francisco is no doubt in our mind a city that is willing to experience new things. We have a technical center here in Mountain View, we have design center in Thousand Oaks, and I think out of this we will gain a lot of new ideas from this city," says Dr. Ian Robertson, a BMW board member. The city also has a growing population of wealthy (and environmentally minded) residents who may be willing to shell out a little more for a premium electric car sharing service.
After it launches in more U.S. cities (San Francisco is just the first of many), DriveNow could expose tens of thousands of people to EVs, familiarizing them with the technology without the pressure of purchasing. If that leads to even a small segment of the population deciding to make their next vehicle purchase electric, BMW will have done a service to the larger EV industry.