Maven car-sharing creates 'side hustle' for Metro Detroit dad

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News
The Maven app vehicle pages show a photo, rental rates per hour or per day and the estimated cost of your specified usage.

Jan Lower of Troy is making upward of $800 a month on a car he doesn't drive.

The finance executive put his daughter's car up for rent on General Motors Co.'s Maven peer-to-peer sharing platform earlier this year in hopes of getting back the lease payment for the 2017 Chevrolet Equinox that sits unused in his driveway while the daughter is at Michigan State University.

"I just took a leap of faith that everything would work out," said Lower, 59, who says he listed the car on Maven on a whim after he read about the pilot program in the newspaper. "I'm very pleased with the activity I've seen compared to my expectations going in."

GM launched its Maven car-sharing service in January 2016 as a "personal mobility brand" for the 110-year-old automaker. The brand has grown in the last two years to include some 190,000 members who have access to traditional hourly sharing, daily or monthly sharing, university campus programs and Maven Gig for rideshare and delivery drivers.

Jan Lower of Troy sits behind the wheel of a 2016 Impala Limited that he rents to others using the Maven car-sharing app.

Peer-to-peer, which works a bit like Airbnb for cars, launched in July as a pilot program in Detroit, Ann Arbor and Chicago. It has since expanded to seven other cities: Baltimore, Boston, Washington, Denver, Jersey City, Los Angeles and San Francisco, where self-driving car developer GM Cruise LLC is headquartered.

Maven's peer-to-peer platform is currently only available for owners of newer GM vehicles, but by the end of 2019, it is expected to expand to non-GM vehicles.

Users who list their vehicles for rent on the platform collect 60 percent of the earnings from the trips, which can range from a few hours to several days, while the other 40 percent goes to Maven. The income earned from car sharing is subject to federal income tax, according to the FAQ section of Maven's website.

Kristen Alexander, Maven's marketing manager, says the use of peer-to-peer has helped Maven to essentially double its fleets and triple its Maven stations, where cars are parked and available for sharing.

"We've been really excited by the response," Alexander said. "What we see a lot among Maven users, especially Maven Gig, are people looking to drive and earn. That side-hustler mentality bleeds over into the peer-to-peer platform."

Lower says he's never had a "side hustle" before joining Maven's peer-to-peer sharing program. And, in fact, it was his children who taught him the term after he told them he was making money on the unused Equinox.

"They were teasing me a little, saying, 'I can't believe dad has a side hustle,'" Lower said. "I wasn't really searching for a side hustle, though. I just wanted to solve a problem."

Offering a solution to that problem — losing money on an underutilized vehicle — was one of the goals Maven had when it set out to develop a peer-to-peer sharing program, Alexander said.

"We wanted car owners to open their minds to a new ownership experience," she said. "Our focus is flexibility."

Users who enroll in the program go through a short on-boarding process, which can be completed online. Once the car is registered on the app, renters can lock and unlock the car with their phones.

"It's a really low-touch, turnkey operation," Lower said. "It works best for me because I have a day job, so it's great to know that Maven and OnStar handle everything, and I don't need to meet with customers or hand off keys."

That hands-off mentality is an important asset for someone considering listing their vehicle for rent on Maven, Lower said.

Most of Lower's customers have used the car and brought it back without issue, but a few times, he says, he's had to deal with the car coming back messy or without enough gas to get home. And once it was even abandoned with an empty tank in Detroit, but GM's OnStar and Maven quickly located the vehicle and had it towed back to Lower's home unharmed before he even knew it had gone missing.

"If you're finicky about your vehicle, this probably isn't for you," said Lower, a father of six and grandfather to five. "I just trust that GM and Maven will do their part if and when something happens."

Maven provides insurance for your vehicle when it is under reservation — $1 million liability coverage that includes comprehensive collision, theft and rental car insurance. Maven says that the car owner's personal insurance premiums should not be affected because the vehicle is insured through the personal mobility company's plan while in use as a shared vehicle. 

Users need to maintain their personal auto insurance, as the vehicle is only covered by Maven's insurance when the car is in a reservation. The car owner is not required to pay for anything — including a deductible — if the vehicle is damaged while under reservation. 

Once Lower learned he could easily make back his lease payments on his daughter's under-used Equinox, he says he started learning the best locations to leave the car and how to tweak the pricing or to maximize his profits. Lower has found the best place to leave the car is in a parking lot near Somerset Mall, particularly during the holiday shopping season.

Now that he's perfected his Maven peer-to-peer technique, Lower says he's already started putting his daily driver up for rent on the weekends.

"Once you see how much you can make on one car," he said, "it starts to beg the question why you wouldn't do more?"

Twitter: @NoraNaughton