Toronto

Car-sharing service Turo follows 'less controversial' business path

One year after entering the Canadian market, peer-to-peer car-sharing company Turo says it now boasts 130,000 members. Can it avoid the pitfalls of other sharing economy companies?

With 2,800 vehicles, Turo says it has Canada's largest car-sharing fleet

David Brown has listed his $95,000 Tesla Model S on Turo since July 2016 (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

After a short test drive at a dealership, Brett Maragno suspected he wanted to buy a Tesla Model S, but he wasn't fully convinced.

"The money you're putting out for one of these, you'd like to know more than [you can] from a 15-minute test drive," Maragno said of the $95,000 electric sedan.

In search of a longer experience with the car, Maragno went online and found a novel service, offered by a company he'd never heard of before: Turo.

The San Francisco-based company has been called the "Airbnb for cars" and offers a peer-to-peer car-sharing service that allows owners to rent out their vehicles, much like Airbnb allows homeowners to rent out their properties.

For $630, Maragno took a Tesla Model S on a weekend road trip to Niagara Falls, which finally convinced him and his wife to buy a Model S of their own.

"His story is fairly common," said David Brown, the Turo user who owns the Tesla.

Brown said requests to rent his car often come from prospective buyers looking for an extended test drive, but they also come from tourists in Toronto for a weekend and couples looking to drive a special car to their wedding.

Brett Maragno decided to buy a Tesla for himself after renting the car through Turo for a weekend. (Nick Boisvert/CBC)

Asked if he's ever apprehensive about lending his nearly six-figure ride to strangers, Brown said he isn't.

"I trust [Turo's] screening process; it's quite thorough," he said shortly after Maragno returned the vehicle. His car has been scratched during two rentals, but Turo's insurance covered the repairs both times, he said.

Turo's Toronto listings are filled with high-end cars like Brown's — from Porsche Panameras at $212 per day — to more modest options like a Kia Rio for $32.

Turo says the owners of those cars pull in an average of $475 per month by listing their cars on the service.

Brown said the extra income has allowed him to buy a Volvo SUV as a second vehicle.

"So now I have two cars that I love, and only really pay for one," he said.

A 'less controversial' sharing economy player

Since entering the Canadian market in April 2016, Turo says, 130,000 people have signed up for the service with 2,800 cars listed on the platform, though the company did not say how many users actually rent cars or how often they do.

Although the company acknowledges that it's tapping into the same sharing-economy principles as companies like Uber and Airbnb,Turo says its model and business tactics set it apart.

"I think our model is maybe less controversial than some of the models that have emerged before," said Cedric Mathieu, director of Turo Canada.

Turo considers itself a travel company and not a "mobility company," meaning its users will likely use the service less often than Uber customers, for example.

Also unlike Uber — which has developed a reputation for its aggressive, rule-bending tactics — Turo says it entered the Canadian market with a "conservative" mindset.

It only conducts business in provinces where its insurance provider, Intact Insurance, operates (Ontario, Quebec and Alberta), and Mathieu said the company has tried to work with local governments where possible.

"We have very open lines of communication with local municipalities," he said.

So far, the approach has kept the company out of the sights of the City of Toronto, which has previously introduced bylaws to cover the ride hailing industry, dominated by Uber.

"[Toronto] is aware of Turo and currently there is no review underway on this type of car-sharing service," wrote Carleton Grant, the director of policy and strategic support for the city's municipal licensing and standards department.

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter based in Toronto with an interest in politics, civic issues and the environment. Outside work, Nick enjoys cooking, following the NBA and listing things in threes. You can reach him at nick.boisvert@cbc.ca.