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

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Generation Y especially, he says, is bailing on owning cars. "First, they can't afford it, and second, they value their freedom. When I grew up, the car was freedom; now it's a ball and chain. Freedom is an iPhone. That's what liberates you and what connects you to your peers," he says. "That's a really huge shift."

Evidence of that is Aubrey Harding, a 24-year-old medical student in Portland, Ore., who saw renting her 2003 Mazda Protégé as a way to help pay for books, school supplies, and high-priced car insurance. She began renting it last April through Getaround.

Each person to whom she rents has a profile and reviews on the site, so she can vet them. Her rates are $7 an hour, $35 a day, and $175 a week. She gets 60 percent of the fee, and Getaround takes 40 percent – which goes toward insuring the vehicles while they are rented. While her car is being used, Ms. Harding and her husband bike to work and school. This is her first experience with sharing, and she says: "I'd like to do more of it. I'm really open to it now."

But for some, it's more than money; it's common sense – a philosophy and a way of life.

Gorenflo, who at 48 teeters at the upper age range of Generation X, once had a traditional corporate marketing career. His entry into the sharing economy was the result of a seismic emotional and philosophical epiphany, he says. While on a business trip to Brussels in 2004 as an executive with DHL, he took an afternoon run, stopped at an abandoned warehouse, and suddenly started crying. At the time, he recalls, DHL's mission statement "said something like 'To be the best box mover in the world.' What is that? I realized I was not doing the work I wanted to do."

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