Karaoke car sharing
Only every once in a while, journalists in the auto industry come across news that’s - at best – remotely funny. Most often, it’s an extrapolation of cultural differences, these little things exotic habits from other countries. Most often as well, the Japanese are in it for something… so here we go.
The growing popularity of car sharing in Japan, led by companies such as Times 24 and Orix, has incentivised popular news outlets to do some investigative work. Nagoya-based Chūkyō TV has decided to have a closer look at the user profiles of the car sharing clientele; mobility solutions are fairly new in Japan and coverage of the topic is not as widespread as it is in Europe.
Started in 1980 as a spin-off of parking space facilitator Park24, Times 24 aims to contribute to a “comfortable car society” whilst being “eco-friendly”. The company offers ultra-short to short-time car rental, which means that anyone can rent a car from 15 minutes up to 48 hours. Booking is easy (web or mobile app), as long as the user speaks Japanese and has a local phone number, and service is impeccable as well as cheap (around $2 per 15 minutes).
Vehicles are supplied with keyless access (today via a card, but Times 24 is implementing vehicle access via mobile phone), a fuel card (fuel is included) and some cleaning products. Every car is equipped with an ETC (toll road card) reader and satellite navigation.
Times 24 car sharing is station based; the company has over 10,000 stations with up to a handful of cars, usually ultra-compact (kei-cars) to compact vehicles. They own the vehicles and sell them on their own second-hand platform after (on average) 2 years and 40,000 kilometres.
Most of the Japanese urbanites, especially young people, don’t own a car. Even if car prices are far from being excessive, the cost of a mandatory parking space, required to register a vehicle (around $500 per month in city centre Tokyo) is a bridge too far for most.
Chūkyō TV went out to register the user experience and came to the following surprising conclusion: 1 out of every 8 people who rent a Times 24 car, don’t drive the vehicle anywhere. Next to the obvious “going from A to B”, the vehicles are used as a place to nap, to make phone calls to friends or to have a quiet place to read a book. More creative usage includes: karaoke booth, a place to hide crying children or the car-as-a-locker room. It’s also noted that parents like to use Times 24 cars to get away from their children “to breathe” (translated from Japanese).
Weird? Or not?
Although quintessentially a Japanese phenomenon, the alternative usage of rental vehicles does demonstrate a trend that is being promoted by tech companies and car manufacturers alike: the car as the extension of a lifestyle. Looking at what companies such as Tencent and SoftBank want to achieve (having a greater impact on our consumption behaviour), and what car makers such as Byton aim to do (building a car that is basically a mobile phone on wheels), the Japanese car sharing users might be what the industry want all of us to become.