Technology & Science

Owning vs. sharing: how car habits are changing

The recent $500 million US investment by General Motors in ride-hailing app Lyft points to a shift in attitudes surrounding car ownership, some users of car-sharing services say.

Car-sharing groups say their movement is growing, and some auto manufacturers agree

The recent $500 million US investment by General Motors in ride-hailing app Lyft points to a shift in attitudes surrounding car ownership, some users of car-sharing services say.

It's "a huge signal to the industry [that] car purchasing among millenials is dropping," said Nick Salter, 32, a member of Montreal's Communauto, the oldest car-sharing service in Canada, established in 1994.

"People are moving away more and more from the car. They're realizing there's a high cost. A lot of my friends don't [own one], or they just have one car."

Salter is among the growing number of city-dwellers choosing car sharing over vehicle ownership. Salter pays a monthly fee to have access to a vehicle without the hassle of owning one.

Fellow Montreal resident Sam Steinberg splits fuel, repairs and other costs with a friend so both get to use their shared car.

"I don't think as many urban professionals today regard cars as a status symbol as they have historically," Steinberg said.

Automakers changing habits, too

Major automakers seem to be adapting to the new attitudes. Rather than the traditional method of promoting cars as a reflection of the driver's lifestyle, car companies have focused efforts on high-tech and driverless vehicles

General Motors is partnering with Lyft to develop an autonomous car that will pick up users at the touch of an app.

Anjali Awasthi, with Concordia University's Institute for Information Systems Engineering, studied Communauto and other car-sharing services. She says the popularity of car sharing and ride sharing reflects people's desire for transportation options that are not only cheaper, but greener, too.  

"Both car companies and these service users are moving towards such type of services which minimize the number of vehicle trips," she said.

Car sales still big business

Despite the impact of trends like car sharing and ride-booking services, auto sales in Canada and the U.S. broke records in 2015, driven by pent-up demand. One 2014 consumer survey by Deloitte found that a whopping 80 per cent of millennials surveyed said they do plan on buying a car in the next five years.

However, car-sharing groups such as Communauto, Zipcar, Car2Go, Uber and Lyft say they're just getting started when it comes to attracting new users.

A recent market analysis by the firm Research and Markets suggests they might be right. It estimated there will be 26 million car-sharing users worldwide by 2020, compared to 4.8 million in 2014.

"Almost all car manufacturers realize that the time in which selling a car was the only way to [do] business is finished," said Communauto spokesperson Marco Viviani.