Wheelz Enters Car-Sharing Market, Backed by Zipcar and Bill Ford


As of the past month, the car-sharing sector has another serious competitor in San Francisco, as well on numerous campuses around the state. It’s called Wheelz.

Launched last year, initially at Stanford, the company now operates from its headquarters on Tenth Street in the city.

Wheelz has some high-powered investors who double up as strategic partners – Zipcar and Bill Ford’s Fontinalis Partners. (That's Bill Ford of the Ford Motor Company.)

At the core of the company’s approach to car sharing is technology called DriveBox, designed by co-founder and CTO Akhtar Jameel, a longtime Mercedes exec who developed the world’s first Internet-connected car in 1997.

This small unit works in all cars with electronic locks and allows drivers to locate the car, unlock it, and drive it. If you are getting too far from the car’s “home zone” so that you might not return it on time, the system alerts you.

You are automatically charged for the gas you use at this week’s average gasoline price – there’s no need to refuel the car before returning it.

Like Getaround, Lyft and SideCar, people sign up for Wheelz via Facebook, importing their identity, social reputation, and social graph. Drivers will receive background checks, enter credit card information, and receive a “drive card” that acts as a key.

(The company’s iOS and android apps also are enabled to unlock and operate the vehicle.)

“If you are a car owner, we ask you to bring it in for a 360-degree inspection,” explains co-founder and CEO Jeff Miller. “We install the DriveBox in your car, and within a day you are ready to go.”

Unlike some of the other car-sharing services, Wheelz is not predicated on people meeting in person but on what co-founder Aaron Platshon calls “removing friction from the marketplace. This is not a Craigslist for car sharing."

Instead, he explains, "ours is a self-service model, quick and easy. People book cars when they need them—about 50 percent book less than two hours before they begin the reservation. And many of them book the car only 15 minutes beforehand. The DriveBox technology handles all of that.”

“The car owner doesn't have to do anything except make the car available,” adds Miller. “You will get a text when it is being used, but you don't have to do anything. No effort. If you had to meet up with people, exchange keys, etc., that all takes up your time, and for most people, time is valuable.”

So far in early use, the average rental rate, which is set by the owner, runs around $8-10/hour. The average rental period is 2.5 hours but when all-day rental are included, that average jumps to four hours. Multiple day rentals are also available.

As for the money that changes hands, this is a not voluntary donation, such as with some of the other services.

“It is income,” says Platshon. “We provide 1099s. The owners can deduct miles on their tax return; we provide a very accurate account of the miles that are used.”

Wheelz clearly is positioned to take advantage of its partnerships with Zipcar, which maintains a large fleet of vehicles, and Ford, to scale its p2p service nationwide.

In the process, Miller envisions a fundamental transformation of the automobile industry.

“I think, over the next four to five years when you buy a new car, it will come equipped for the p2p network. There’s going to be an integrated solution. It’s the future of auto industry.”


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