Seattle can welcome a new option for getting around the city, thanks to BMW.
The German auto company officially rolled out its car-sharing service, ReachNow, on Friday in Seattle, pushing its free-floating car-share service not as a competition for Car2Go, but as a separate ‘premium’ mobility service.
“With ReachNow, we are moving car-sharing to the next level,” said Peter Schwarzenbauer, BMW Group board member, at a press event announcing the launch that also included remarks from Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas.
News of the launch wasn’t entirely surprising, as BMW obtained 63 car-share permits in February, and BMW i3s with the ReachNow logo have been spotted around downtown since at least late February.
The service will start out with 370 cars in Seattle — 70 all-electric BMW i3s, 120 BMW 328xi sedans (fully-loaded, by the way),and 180 MINI Coopers (in four-door and two-door models).
That number fairly pales in comparison to Car2Go, which has 750 cars in Seattle, though BMW representatives said they plan to expand rapidly.
Expanding is likely to include not just the number of cars but also the service area, as the initial area cuts off at North 105th Street and Northgate Way, south at South Lander Street, and west at 15th Avenue West — Magnolia and West Seattle are conspicuously left out.
The company also plans to launch the service in three other U.S. cities in 2016, with the goal of eventually serving 10 North American cities.
Schwarzenbauer said the service would soon serve Sea-Tac Airport, though he wouldn’t say how soon or what arrangement the company is making to park the cars there.
Seattle’s car-sharing ordinance requires that they expand to cover the entire city within two years of launch, and BMW has already indicated to the city that it plans to expand as quickly as possible, said Councilmember Mike O’Brien at the announcement event Friday.
To use the ReachNow service, would-be members will download the app, go through a sign-up process that’s promised to take as little as two minutes and then drive. Costs are similar to Car2Go, though slightly higher — a lifetime membership membership fee of $39 and $0.49 per minute (though it’s lowered to $0.41 during a promotional period right now).
Slightly different than Car2Go is the lower rate members pay if they stop during their trip, which is $0.30 per minute.
The rate for ReachNow is supposed to stay constant regardless of demand for now, said Sandra Phillips, chief customer officer for BMW ReachNow Seattle. The user agreement, however, includes a clause that states that prices could increase or decrease depending on demand at the time.
Pricing aside, ReachNow is aiming for much more than “classic car-sharing.”
During his launch remarks, Schwarzenbauer emphasized that members might want to take the cars for the weekend, though details show members will need to stay within 200 miles of Seattle and should let ReachNow know if they plan to keep the car more than 96 hours.
But BMW plans to add delivery service, chauffeur service and even the chance for BMW and MINI owners in Seattle to rent their own cars out through the service. The company is also planning to offer group service, such as for companies or housing communities, Schwarzenbauer said.
Those services make ReachNow much more of a “mobility” service than Car2Go, he added.
“(ReachNow is) not so one-dimensional, like others we see in the market,” he said.
ReachNow is part of a larger theme of mobility that BMW is focusing on in its 100th year as a company, he said.
“Today, I’m saying we excite people with out mobility,” Schwarzenbauer said. “We want to shape our mobility of tomorrow. We don’t want it to be shaped — we want to shape it.”
(It’s worth noting that no one from BMW mentioned Car2Go by name during official remarks).
The service is active in nine European cities, under the name DriveNow, and was active in San Francisco up until last November, when it pulled out for lack of street parking options.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, while BMW doesn’t see ReachNow as a competitor to other car-sharing services (Car2Go),Car2Go isn’t sure how much of a competitor the new service is going to be just yet.
“One-way car-share is a really complex business,” said Dacyl Armendariz, external communications for Car2Go. “I think that’s why we don’t see a lot of direct competition.”
Car2Go launched in Seattle in 2012, and has spent the intervening years honing its business and making sure cars are spread far and wide across the city, Armendariz said. BMW might be playing a bit of catch up, according to her view.
But BMW officials seemed set on ReachNow taking on more of a luxury role, with no shortage of emphasis on the idea that members might use the service just to have a BMW driving experience without the cost of buying one (a comparable 328i with xDrive runs in the $40,000 range with ReachNow’s options, according to BMWusa.com).
Or maybe just to have the “go-kart” experience of driving a MINI, or take their first ride in an electric car — all premium cars, Schwarzenbauer said.
“We see ourselves as the only one in the market who can cover all your mobility needs,” he said.
On the electric note, Schwarzenbauer said the company plans to look at demand for the electric i3 cars and, if it’s higher than expected, they’ll go back to the city to work on expanding access to charging.