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Rent or own? The new sharing economy values access over ownership

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•If Gansky wants to meet a friend for lunch and the restaurant is too far to walk to, she'll open up the app for SideCar and search for someone driving his or her car – with an empty seat – in the same direction she's going, and coordinate with that person for pickup.

Welcome to the sharing economy – also known as the collaborative economy or the access economy – where tangible things are shared, like power tools or kids' toys, as well as intangibles like space, time, car rides, and knowledge.

At a time when many feel a kind of cyber isolation from so much interaction on social networks, the idea of community and connection through sharing seems both retro and revolutionary.

It's also quite marketable. Research consulting firm Frost & Sullivan projects that car-­sharing revenues alone in North America will be $3.3 billion by 2016. The number of car-sharing members in North America is expected to reach 9 million by 2020, according to a forthcoming Frost & Sullivan study, written by industry analyst Ratika Garg.

Investors have shown interest, too. In February, international car-sharing service Zipcar led a $13.7 million investment in Wheelz, a peer-to-peer version of Zipcar (which owns all its vehicles) that is based on college campuses and matches car owners with would-be borrowers. In August, Getaround, another peer-to-peer car-sharing service, closed a $13.9 million round of financing led by Silicon Valley's Menlo Ventures.

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