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Maven car-sharing looms in Australia

Holden dips a toe in car-sharing with Maven scheme for staff in Melbourne

15 Mar 2017

GENERAL Motors appears to be laying the groundwork for the introduction of its Maven car-sharing operation in Australia.

Just 14 months after GM’s fledgling “personal mobility brand” was created in the United States, several car parking spaces at GM Holden’s head office in Melbourne have been marked with the Maven logo for a Holden in-house staff car-sharing scheme.

GM has not only registered the Maven trademark for Australia, but also the trademark for the Maven smartphone app to be used by “members” to locate, book and even open and start Maven vehicles in a system aimed at young urban motorists who need a car only occasionally.

Curiously, GM has also applied for trademark coverage for the Maven name on bicycles, including electric bikes, perhaps indicating ambitions to go into the electric bike-sharing business as well.

The parking bays reserved for Maven at Holden are front and centre on the ground floor of Holden’s Port Melbourne headquarters multi-storey staff car park, directly outside the staff entrance and right next to bays reserved for senior Holden executive directors.

A Holden spokesman said the bays are for company cars that can be shared by Holden employees needing a car for a short period or wanting to sample various models on the Holden range.

The spokesman said Holden had no immediate plans to open public Maven operations in Australia.

If it eventually does, Maven will go up against established car-sharing operators such as GoGet and GreenShareCar, both of which have fleets populated with cars from Holden arch rival Toyota.

Exclusively using GM cars ranging from the Bolt electric runabout to the huge Chevrolet Tahoe SUV, the Maven service in the US is available in only seven major cities to date, although a recent press release indicates a further 10 cities – including one in Canada – are in the process of being added to the network.

This potentially makes Australia among the first markets outside North America to gain the services of this GM start-up that began with a staff of just 40 and trials at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, near Detroit, in January last year.

Since then, the service has expanded to Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington DC. According to a recent press release in the US, other cities set to get the service soon are Jersey City, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, San Diego and – in Canada – Waterloo, near Toronto.

Maven was founded on the ashes of defunct ride-sharing company Sidecar which GM acquired in early 2016, around the same time that America’s biggest motor company also invested $US500 million ($A661m) in similar operation, Lyft, to take advantage of what it saw as a major growth market in personal transport.

While Lyft has other major shareholders, including a Saudi prince, Maven is wholly owned by GM which apparently sees Maven as a vehicle to introduce its new-generation pure electric and autonomous vehicles as they come on stream over the next decade.

The system works via a phone app downloaded from Apple AppStore or Google Play, with customers first signing up for Maven membership and then using their phone to reserve a car by the hour or the day from $US8 an hour.

The customer then heads to a pick-up point to collect the car which he or she opens and starts using the app.

All of the cars are not only equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity but also provide 4G Wi-Fi for connection to – among other services – GM’s OnStar service that provides 24/7 emergency service.

The customer needs to return the car to the same parking point, wrapping up the rental by hitting the “end trip” button on the app.

Insurance and a tank of fuel are included in the price, but free mileage has a ceiling, after which customers pay a mileage fee.

The company recently announced an extension to the service, Maven Reserve, which provides for longer term rentals of up to 28 days, initially in Los Angeles and San Francisco but in other cities soon.

Unlike the hourly or daily rentals, Maven Reverse requires members to pay a monthly fee to qualify for a longer car hire.

Ultimately, when autonomous cars are introduced, the Maven driverless car might come directly to the consumer and then drop them at their destination, making GM’s operation a direct rival to Uber.

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