Car ownership is declining, particularly among young people, while car-sharing companies in North America and Germany have seen a 30 percent growth in membership over the last five years, McKinsey finds.
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This is certainly playing out on the Left Coast. While many think of Los Angeles as a car-centric city, I found it easy to ditch mine. Goodbye, expensive maintenance costs, gas, repairs, insurance, parking, and maybe a speeding ticket or two. Hello to reading sci-fi in the sunny spot on the light rail to Santa Monica.
Still, there is the occasional need for a ride, and GM-owned Maven wants to fill that gap. It launched in January 2016, and is now available in 17 cities; 63,000 members have driven over 170 million miles. Maven has several service tiers—Maven City (car sharing), Maven Home (car sharing for residential communities), and Maven Gig. That last one—aimed at gig economy workers—is available in San Francisco and San Diego, and is launching in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Unlike Maven City, which allows car rentals by the hour, those who sign up for Maven Gig use their cars for a minimum of a week, but typically keep them for several months, according to a GM spokeswoman. The idea is that city dwellers can test the waters of the gig economy—drive for Lyft or Uber, sign up to be a TaskRabbit, deliver for Instacart—without buying a car of their own.
Maven Gig pricing starts around $189 per week; GrubHub, Instacart, and Roadie are Maven partners, meaning "the signup process for those apps [is] smoother," GM says, but Gig drivers can use their cars for whatever side job they want. Gig cars are slightly older than Maven City vehicles and don't come with 4G-LTE Wi-Fi, but there are no mileage restrictions like there are with Maven City rentals.
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At this point, you can sign up for Gig online, but starting Thursday, you'll choose between Maven City and Maven Gig within the company's app.
Ahead of the LA rollout, PCMag got an introduction to Maven with Jeff Shields, a former Marine who now heads up the company's West Coast operations. I met him at a Maven-branded parking spot in a rooftop Hollywood garage, where he unlocked a Chevrolet Bolt EV with a tap of the Maven app, and unplugged the car from its charger. Here's a condensed and edited of our conversation.
I have to ask, as a former Logistics Specialist in the Marines, what did you get to handle there—a Cougar 4x4 MRAP?
Actually, I was assigned to the 3rd Amphibious Assault Battalion, with AAV7 Amphibious Assault Vehicles—tanks that drive off the back of ships and go into the water, holding fully-loaded combat Marines, with twin diesel engines. I managed the maintenance and combat-readiness of everything including the weapons and comms systems.
So you're still in vehicle logistics, but now within more urban environments?
Right. (Laughs) Plus, the Marine Corps preps you for living in the gray—being ready for anything—and, today, I'm still working in a very dynamic environment, with plenty of change; it's a start-up, after all. In fact, there are a lot of veterans working at GM, our parent company, and more specifically, within Maven, itself.
So what are we driving today as, sadly, you don't have AAVs as part of your Maven range.
In this scenario, we're going to be driving a fully electric Chevrolet Bolt, with an EPA estimated range of 238 miles, uniquely suited for vehicle sharing, the compact hatchback seats five with room for cargo storage, and the flat floor facilitates easy entry and egress. The smooth, quiet electric propulsion is ideal for dense urban areas.
What's the process to join Maven?
It's simple to get membership, which is free, and seamless; we just validate your credit card and driver's license. Once you have the app on your phone, you select the dates, and location of where you need to pick up car, hit "reserve," data is stored in your "My Trips" area, you'll get a notification where the car is, and how to find it—i.e. if it's in a parking garage on the top of a Hollywood office building, and it's matched to your unique ID—so only you can unlock the car remotely as you approach the vehicle.
Just spotted the 'horn' icon on the app—a safety feature?
If there's someone peering into the vehicle you can shock them in a 'Move away from the Motor, mate' audio FX-style. Or locate it if you forgot where you parked it at the mall during your reservation period.
Ah, yes, a more logical use case scenario.
So the app unlocks the car—there are no keys, push-button ignition—and we can get in and drive away instantly. For security reasons, it just unlocks the driver's side, to keep you safe.
The vehicle doesn't respond with a 'Hello, Jeff' Knight Rider facial-recognition or voice-printing mechanism?
So we're now in the car, and there's a USB cable to hook up your phone.
Yes, and now you can see it's started my preferences within Apple CarPlay [Android Auto is also available] so you can have that more personalized experience without the hassle of owning a car.
So, can you explain the difference between Maven Gig and Maven City, and why General Motors wanted to get into this business?
Maven City is a more round-trip car-sharing service. The car lives here, I reserve it for when I need it, and it's available for hourly, daily, weekly, or 28-day monthly rates. Maven Gig is really exciting, it's an enabler for the sharing economy, whether someone is driving for Uber, Lyft, or one of the other on-demand gig economy services—GrubHub, Instacart, and Roadie—giving people an opportunity to make a living at their own convenience, giving them access to vehicles on a weekly rental basis to use for all their side hustles.
What's included in the service and how much does it cost?
When educating consumers around a car-free, or car-light, lifestyle, with both Maven City and Maven Gig, we like to talk about an elevated car experience, with free membership, that starts at only $8 an hour for Maven City, while Maven Gig pricing starts at $189 per week [plus taxes]. You get unlimited miles [with Maven Gig], and a mileage limit of 180 per day for Maven City.
Maintenance, insurance [less the deductible], in-car navigation, 4G LTE in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspot which can connect up to seven devices [on Maven City vehicles], and a broad range of vehicles to choose from. If you reserve the Bolt EV, we provide free charging; or free gas via a fuel card in the vehicle on other rides within Maven City.
And the driver doesn't have that nagging thought in the back of their head about replacing the tires, or other maintenance expenses, because that's your job?
Right, we worry about that—and get it sorted—so you're driving a vehicle that's roadworthy at all times.
Cynically speaking, is Maven also a useful way to expose younger people to GM vehicles?
The automotive industry is changing significantly, and probably will do more in the next five years than in the past 50, so GM has gotten aggressively into the car share/ride share space because it wants to take a leadership position. Yes, doing so, also gives the consumer an opportunity to try out new GM vehicles, as a future purchase choice. We know that many young people might not ever own a car. Or, if they move to the suburbs when they start a family, they might go "car-light," maybe owning a GM car, but they might also continue to use Maven to supplement driving needs. So as a company, we'll still be significant in terms of miles driven.
Let's talk about the tech behind the platform.
The Maven Platform was internally developed by Maven team members in Detroit, Austin, and Phoenix. We have brought together great GM vehicles and features, Maven Platform, and OnStar [also a GM subsidiary] connectivity to create a seamless experience.
Detroit, Austin and Phoenix, not Silicon Valley? Refreshing.
That was really important to us. It's also a pretty complex ecosystem, so we wanted to build it, and maintain it, continuing to evolve it—all in-house.
How 'smart' is the platform?
Very. We're keeping a pulse on data collection via our embedded connectivity, to ascertain best routes and traffic pattern analysis, gridlock avoidance, and using machine intelligence throughout to provide a premium experience. The platform is the core of delivering a seamless customer experience. We've already used it to develop three separate products [City, Gig, and Home], and have plans to use it for additional mobility service products in the future.
Final question: how soon can I summon a self-driving Maven vehicle to my apartment building?
We're working on it. Everything we're doing today, in terms of Maven, are building blocks to an autonomous future.