GM car-sharing unit Maven grows in Ann Arbor, Chicago

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — General Motors Co.’s new car-sharing service Maven is expanding, adding vehicles and users in Ann Arbor and Chicago, as the Detroit automaker continues to develop a business catered to people who may not own a car.

Reporter Melissa Burden finds a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu, reserves it on her phone and goes to the parking garage where it is located.

Maven, GM’s personal mobility brand that launched earlier this year, has more than 1,300 approved users in Ann Arbor and quietly launched a few weeks ago in Chicago. Maven is expected to add service in additional major U.S. metro areas this year.

In Ann Arbor, about 20-30 percent of those who have downloaded the Maven smartphone app are considered active users, meaning they have rented a vehicle more than once, said GM spokeswoman Annalisa Bluhm. And the automaker is seeing a range of people using Maven, not just millennials and college students. Some are borrowing cars to get to their jobs, while others are using SUVs for weekend trips to IKEA.

One regular Maven customer is Shannon Serenko, 32, who lives and works in Ann Arbor. Serenko doesn’t own a car and Maven has vehicles for rent in her building’s parking garage. Serenko estimates she’s used Maven about a half dozen times, including for two overnight trips.

“Living downtown, parking is pretty pricey. I had a Jeep Wrangler. It just wasn’t making sense to pay for insurance, and a place to park it and the upkeep on it when I was using it only like once a week, if that, for groceries,” she said.

Serenko, who also has used Zipcar, said she likes Maven’s low prices and finds that the app to reserve a car is easy to use. She said car-sharing has saved her lots of money. Her favorite vehicle to borrow is a Chevrolet Volt, which she has nicknamed Charlie.

“The Volt is cheapest car you can rent at six bucks an hour, and it’s a sweet car,” she said, adding she likes to plug in her phone and listen to Pandora while she’s driving.

Maven started with 13 vehicles in Ann Arbor, a figure that’s grown to 30 across the main and north campuses of the University of Michigan and the city center. Maven plans to add five more by the end of May, said Emily Lavers, Maven’s manager in Ann Arbor. In comparison, Zipcar offers about 60 vehicles in Ann Arbor, where it has had a presence for a decade.

Lavers said weekend use is high and every vehicle is being checked out multiple times on some weekends. Fridays and Saturdays are the busiest days, she said.

“If utilization keeps up like this, we could consider increasing the fleet,” Lavers said.

How it works

To use Maven, you first spend about 10 minutes registering for an account, which includes giving some personal information such as your driver’s license number and a credit card number to pay for reservations. Maven then conducts a background check and promises a reply within two days. (I got my response in a little over 24 hours that I was good to reserve and drive a vehicle.)

Once you’ve downloaded the Maven app on your smartphone, you can search for, reserve and even unlock and start a vehicle. The app is pretty simple to use and on a recent Friday I was able to quickly locate and reserve a 2016 Chevrolet Malibu for $8 an hour.

But finding the Malibu in a busy parking garage was a bit challenging. Photographer Dan Mears and I walked around for a few minutes looking for it or signage before asking a parking lot attendant who pointed us toward two reserved spots near another garage entrance. Those spots were marked with small black and yellow Maven signs.

We tried to go to the car early to see if we could get into it, and while the car was available in its parking spot, the app wouldn’t allow us to enter the vehicle early.

As a novice, I ran into some trouble trying to unlock the doors through the Maven app. I called OnStar after attempting to hit an unlock button on the app unsuccessfully for a few minutes after the reservation had started. A helpful adviser suggested I may need to enable Bluetooth on my smartphone; after switching that on, I was easily able to hit the unlock button on my iPhone and get into the car.

GM also offers Maven+, a residential car-sharing service that works the same way but is available to people who live in certain Manhattan and Chicago apartment buildings. The residential service is available to more than 5,000 residents in the two cities, about 400 of which are active users, Bluhm said.

Burden ran into some trouble trying to unlock the doors through the Maven app. But as soon as she activated the Bluetooth on her phone, she was able to get in and start the car.

GM’s bet on car-sharing

The automaker has said rather than be disrupted by competitors such as Lyft Inc., Uber and car-sharing companies, it is joining the game.

GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra last week said she is not afraid of car-sharing and believes GM can “get rid of a lot of customer pain points with sharing.”

Speaking last week at a women’s technology conference in Detroit, Barra said car-sharing can eliminate headaches of car ownership in cities where congestion and parking costs are aplenty such as New York City.

“If you can eliminate pain points and how they get from Point A to Point B, you’re going to be really serving the customer,” Barra said. “And that’s why General Motors is working so hard, that however people get from Point A to Point B, that we’re going to be a part of it and really lead it all the way to autonomous (driving).”

Earlier this year, GM also bought a 9 percent stake in ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. for $500 million. The two companies are working to develop a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs.

There is growth potential globally and in the U.S. for car-sharing and ride-sharing. In North America, some 1.5 million people today use car-sharing services, a figure that’s expected to grow to 6 million by 2021, according to Boston Consulting Group. The consulting firm, however, doesn’t predict a huge hit to new car purchases. It sees car-sharing cutting 792,000 vehicle purchases globally in five years, or slightly more than 1 percent of new car sales in global markets with car-sharing services available.

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How Maven works

What: Maven, General Motors Co.’s new car-sharing service

Who: Open to the public, to licensed drivers 18 and up who pass a background check.

Where: Several locations in Ann Arbor, including near the University of Michigan campus and downtown; Chicago and coming to other U.S. metro areas this year.

Vehicles: 30 in Ann Arbor including the Chevrolet Spark, Malibu, Volt and Tahoe. Users return cars to the same parking spot.

Includes: Insurance and gas for up to 180 miles in a day, plus ability to sync phones for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; OnStar services, SiriusXM, and 4G LTE wireless service. If gas falls below a quarter of a tank while in use, drivers are asked to use an included credit card to refuel.

Cost: No sign-up fee. In Ann Arbor, prices range from $6 an hour for the Spark and Volt, to $12 an hour for the Tahoe; $42 per day for the Spark and Volt, to $84 a day for the Tahoe; prices are slightly higher in Chicago where 26 vehicles are available.


Source: Maven and General Motors Co.