: Value Investing Forum - Singapore, Hong Kong, U.S.

Full Version: Car-sharing back in the fast lane
You're currently viewing a stripped down version of our content. View the full version with proper formatting.
Jul 20, 2011
Car-sharing back in the fast lane

High car prices make scheme an attractive option again
By Christopher Tan, Senior Correspondent

Mr Roberto Tan, a business development manager, has been a Car Club member since 2004. The 39-year-old usually uses the service two to three times a month. -- ST PHOTO: RAJ NADARAJAN

CAR-SHARING is riding a new wave of popularity as lofty certificate of entitlement (COE) prices once again put car ownership beyond the reach of many.

The three players here all cite membership shifting to a higher gear.

Car Club, the biggest outfit here, has almost doubled its fleet since it was hived off from NTUC Income early last year.

The company, part-owned by Japanese conglomerate Mitsui, will have 161 cars by next month - up from 145 today and 83 in March last year.

About 60 per cent of the fleet are new cars and membership has grown from 2,100 to 2,510.

Director and shareholder Lai Meng said the company plans to expand its fleet to 400 cars and have 11,000 members by mid-2013.

WhizzCar, a subsidiary of Popular Rent A Car, is also benefiting from the revival. 'We've seen a 15 per cent rise in member applications,' said general manager K.K. Ho. 'We used to get 30 to 40 a month on average; now we get 50-plus. The rise in car prices has made people think twice about buying a car.'

WhizzCar plans to add three sites to its current 33 'within the next two months', putting up to three cars per site. Its current fleet stands at 85.

Another player, Kahshare, has 50 vehicles and recently added three 'ports' - one in Jurong and two in Punggol - making 19 in all.

'We are currently getting five to eight new members a month,' said operations manager Choong Tat Soon. 'We believe that as our network expands and car-sharing becomes more accessible, membership will continue to rise.'

Car-sharing members pay a membership fee to join. They pay time and distance-based charges for the use of the car but these are often lower than rental car rates. Bookings are usually done online and members often access the cars via special smart key cards.

Car-sharing has gone on a roller- coaster ride ever since insurance giant NTUC Income introduced the concept here in 1997.

Its fortunes rose as car cost was driven up by soaring COE premiums in the 1990s, and dived when premiums plummeted in the mid-2000s.

In 2007, transport group ComfortDelGro pulled the plug on its CitySpeed car-sharing scheme.

A year later, Honda Motor quit a similar scheme using exclusively petrol-electric hybrid Civics. Some of the cars have since been taken over by Kahshare.

And early last year, Income pulled the brakes on car-sharing as part of its revamp to focus on its insurance business.

Now, with car COE premiums having more than quadrupled from three years ago, pushing the cost of a modest 1.6-litre Japanese sedan past $100,000, car-sharing is on a roll again.

'The challenge is for us to get the HDB to see car-sharing as a scheme that can help manage the current parking crunch by discouraging car purchases by low-usage drivers,' said Mr Lai.

'There were a few occasions when we were requested to vacate a carpark to create parking space for two or three individual car owners.'

Operators have also lamented at the lack of governmental support since former transport minister Mah Bow Tan first mooted the idea 15 years ago. In fact, there was a recent suggestion that car-sharing actually intensified the usage of a car, making it a high-mileage vehicle like a taxi.

Mr Lai conducted a study on 65 cars in Car Club's fleet to evaluate if this was true. It turned out that the average annual distance was 20,700km - in line with that of a private car.

'Each shared car serves 25 drivers compared with one or two drivers for a private car,' he added, noting that car-sharing members use public transport regularly. 'They do not use a car when there is a cheaper alternative.'

A typical user is Mr Abdul Jalil Zakaria, 47, who has been a Car Club member since 2002 when it was known as Car Co-op. 'The best thing about car-sharing is the flexibility, in terms of where and when I can get a car,' the airline control room officer said.

'I live in Pasir Ris where there are three Car Club locations. In nearby Tampines, there are four or five. So it's very easy for me to get to a car.'

The only times he fails to get a car are when he books at the 'last minute, on a weekend'.