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Car pools: the next generation

CityzenCar's users can rent cars to others - and vice versa- using the power of SMS.
[Article published in The Review "Summer 2012 issue", author Michael Streeter]

When Nicolas le Douarec and his colleagues were considering setting up a peer-to-peer car-sharing scheme, they knew there would be no shortage of potential customers. “All the cars we needed were already there, in front of our eyes, parked in the street,” says Le Douarec. “We just had to free them from their prison – from their parking.
 

CitizenCard web siteCityzenCar, which was founded in 2011 after five years of development work, allows individuals across France to rent cars or offer their own vehicles for private rental for a few hours or days at a time for a modest fee. It describes itself as a peer-to-peer “social network,” rather than just a transactional platform between customers.

The idea is to keep the transaction as simple as possible: members are covered by CityzenCar's insurance scheme and there is no commission. Arguably the key selling point is that, after members have signed up on the company's website, all subsequent communication is done by simple text message.

But with users renting out personal possessions worth thousands of euros, they naturally need to feel assured that the communication system is secure. So, in February 2012, CityzenCar introduced an SMS-based communication solution from mobile-commerce provider Netsize, a Gemalto company. “SMS is the only really universal communication ‘protocol’ for mobile situations,” says Le Douarec.

When an owner receives a rental request by SMS and approves it, the driver gets a text message with the car’s details and location. The owner can then either give the keys to the driver in person, or authorize CityzenCar to unlock the doors using the CityzenBox, which allows the driver to open the vehicle using a temporary code and his or her mobile phone.

It’s such a simple idea, and peer-to-peer car sharing is not unique to France. There are similar companies operating in a number of other European countries, such as the UK, Spain and Germany, as well as in the United States, Japan, Canada and Australia. They are all part of the growing phenomenon of “collaborative consumption” in which, thanks to technology, individuals can swap, barter, trade and rent goods and services on a massive scale.

CityzenCar hopes that its own brand of car sharing will catch on. So far, it has 12,000 members in 2,000 different towns and villages in France, and its initial aim is to have at least one person offering a car for sharing in all of the country’s 36,000 communes. “After that, our market is Europe,” says Le Douarec.

Read Gemalto press release

About CitizenCar Web site