Even for those who love driving, owning a car can be a pain. Gas, maintenance, and insurance costs can add up quickly and, if you live in a crowded city, finding a parking space can be difficult. These annoyances have created a profitable niche for car-sharing services, which give customers access to cars only when they need them. Seeing an opportunity, General Motors launched its Maven “personal mobility” brand in 2016 to offer car sharing in multiple North American cities. But is it really better to rent a car from GM than to just buy one?
To find out, we ditched our personal car for a long weekend and fired up the Maven app to find a new ride. We found the service to be quite convenient, but not the final world in personal transportation. Many factors will determine whether it’s worth replacing a personal car with Maven, or at least opting for one of its competitor car-sharing services or a traditional rental company.
A car company learns to share
GM began experimenting with U.S. car sharing in 2015 with a pilot program for residents of the Ritz Plaza, a luxury apartment building in New York City’s Times Square. Maven now operates in 14 U.S. and two Canadian cities. The service claims to have 130,000 total members and over 260 million miles driven.
Even for those who love driving, owning a car can be a pain.
Why would a car company want to get involved with car sharing? One reason is the success of existing services like Zipcar: If people can rent cars easily, they might not want to buy them. GM also views Maven as a way to court the coveted Millennial demographic. The company claims 79 percent of reserving members are of that generation, and that the average age for reservation holders is 29.
While it’s widely believed that Millennials are less interested in driving than previous generations, driving in New York City can test just about anyone’s patience regardless of age. Traffic grinds to a halt at any moment, and finding a parking space in the Big Apple is often as difficult as finding an affordable apartment. While New York does have an extensive public transit system, there are fewer options for people traveling out of the city. If a car-sharing service can make it here, it can make it anywhere.
Planning a trip
Our plan was to pick up a Maven car from downtown Manhattan on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and head north to Connecticut to take in some racing at Lime Rock Park. Our destination was difficult to reach without a car, so this was exactly the kind of situation where a car-sharing service would come in handy for city residents.
Maven offered us a complimentary four-day loan to try out the service, so we downloaded the app and started looking for some wheels. Unlike Zipcar, Maven doesn’t charge application or monthly subscription fees, so as long as you have the app and an active profile with a valid driver’s license, you’re good to go. But Zipcar has more locations in New York City, and its network extends into nearby suburban areas. If you live in a city where Maven operates, we recommend checking to see if there is a conveniently located station before signing up.
Unlike a conventional rental, there were no forms to sign, and no sales pitches for extra insurance coverage.
Naturally, Maven only rents GM cars. The specific models available vary by city, and the specific stations within each city. A Cadillac Escalade may be available at one station but not another, for example. At the time of our rental, available cars included the Chevrolet Malibu, Cruze, Trax, and Equinox, as well as the Cadillac Escalade, ATS, and XT5. Rates started at $14.50 an hour for a Cruze or Malibu.
Rates and available vehicles vary from city to city. Across the Hudson River in Jersey City, for example, it’s possible to rent a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid. Some cities also offer the all-electric Chevy Bolt EV. New York’s rates also appear to be higher than some other cities. Maven lists the starting hourly rate for a compact car in Los Angeles and Boston at $5.00 and $8.00 an hour, respectively.
Hitting the road
We chose a light blue 2017 Chevrolet Cruze hatchback. Brent Taylor, Maven’s general manager for New York, previously told us this was the most popular car among Big Apple users. We found this car to be up to the task of running an Alaskan road rally, and hoped it could handle New York City traffic as well.
The rate for the Cruze was $130.00 a day, which with taxes worked out to $467.51 for our four-day loan period (again, Maven waived the cost of the loan). That’s not exactly cheap, but it’s fairly competitive. Zipcar advertises a similarly sized Honda Civic rental in Manhattan at $18.44 an hour or $142.50 a day. That works out to $570.00 over four days. Both services include tolls, gas, and insurance as part of their rates. Depending on how much you drive and whether or not you already have car insurance, that may make car sharing a better deal than a traditional rental.
Maven gives users a 180-mile allowance for each 24-hour period they spend with the car. Going over that limit costs $0.42 a mile plus what the company calls “applicable taxes.” Zipcar users in New York also have 180 miles per day at their disposal but the firm charges $0.45 for each additional mile.
Car sharing may not be the future of the automobile, but it’s definitely here to stay.
It’s also worth noting that we didn’t use Maven they way most actual drivers do. The main advantage of a car-sharing service over traditional rental companies like Enterprise or Avis is that you can rent cars by the hour. Maven claims most of its New York City customers use cars for short trips, with distances driven averaging 75 miles.
We picked up the Cruze from an Icon (a chain with locations throughout the city) parking garage at Irving Place in downtown Manhattan, just a short walk from the subway hub of Union Square, the New York University campus, and Greenwich Village. All we had to do was show the attendant a driver’s license. Unlike a conventional rental, there were no forms to sign, and no sales pitches for extra insurance coverage.
The car rolled up with some damage, including a dent in the driver’s side rear door, and a crack in the plastic rear fascia. The interior was fairly clean, but we still found some dirt in places and it generally no longer seemed showroom fresh. Maven claims to replace its fleet with new cars frequently, but any sort of shared car still racks up mileage – and wear – quickly. Our 2017-model-year Cruze had 12,656 miles on its odometer at the start.
Cosmetic blemishes aside, the Cruze felt good mechanically. There were no issues to report, and no mechanical components felt worn out. Overall, it was a typical rental-car experience: we got what on paper was a relatively new car, but it still felt used.
What sets Maven apart from other rental companies – including other car-sharing services – is that it offers a higher level of equipment in its cars. Our Cruze was the range-topping Premier model, with leather seats and 17-inch alloy wheels. It also had the built-in WiFi hotspot and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity standard on all Cruze models. Maven enables features like remote door locking/unlocking through its smartphone app and includes SiriusXM satellite radio on all cars. We certainly appreciated that during our traffic-choked Memorial Day weekend exodus.
After a few days with the Cruze, we brought it back to the same garage (Maven requires all rentals to be returned to the starting location), hit “End Trip” on the app, and tossed the keys to the attendant. Easy.
The ability to summon a car with your smartphone, and then be able to use it however you want within a given time period, is pretty appealing. But Maven and other car-sharing services seem to primarily benefit people who don’t drive very often. If you drive even semi-regularly, having your own car ready to go at all times may prove more convenient, and possibly a better long-term deal, considering Maven’s daily rates. The utility of Maven and other car-sharing services also depends on the amount and type of cars available in your area.
For short, occasional trips in crowded cities, car sharing definitely makes sense, though. Car sharing may not be the future of the automobile, but it’s definitely here to stay.