Now China’s Ride-Sharing Scene Wants a Piece of the Luxury Market

Bike-sharing has been all the rage in China this year, but while Mobike and Ofo have been grabbing the headlines, some car sharing start-ups have been making upgrades to gain a luxurious edge on the competition.

China’s burgeoning car-sharing market majorly revolves around electric vehicles. This is partly to align with the plans of the Chinese government—which provides significant support to the industry—for combating pollution and competing with Tesla. Of the estimated 30,000 cars in the ride-sharing field, about 95 percent are electric.

Like many of its counterparts, Ezzy is a car-sharing company that has built its operation around electric vehicles. However, with its fleet of BMW i3s, officially launched in China late last year, Ezzy had already laid claim to the higher end of the ride-share market. Until recently, though, the company essentially allowed users to “try before they buy” through the Ezzy app, in line with the industry-wide effort to boost Chinese consumer interest in electric vehicles.

In May, the company announced a bold shakeup intended to bolster its credentials as the car-sharing app for the aspirational middle class. Along with a visual rebrand and an upgraded app, Ezzy added the fuel-powered Audi A3 to its line-up alongside those existing BMWs. With the company planning to expand its portfolio further to include a Mercedes-Benz vehicle, this is just the beginning of Ezzy’s mission to become what Chinese auto industry journalist Xiao Han described as “the Hilton of ride-sharing” in a recent report for tech blog Zhi Dongxi.

China’s metropolises are already full of status-seeking car owners, but in the past few years, car-sharing platforms have started gaining appeal with consumers as an alternative to driving their own cars. This is partly a consequence of the government’s efforts to curb pollution, with license plate restrictions limiting the number of cars on the road. However, car-sharing companies are now also responding to a demand from China’s aspiring, tech-savvy millennial consumers for a ride-sharing aspect to their high-end lifestyle.

This emerging market of middle class youth is one luxury car brands aren’t forgetting. Last year, Mercedes-Benz had these consumers in mind when it opened its Mercedes me experience center in Beijing’s trendy Sanlitun district. Mercedes me gives consumers who are curious about the brand, but not necessarily car owners themselves, access to a high-end lifestyle via fashionable parties and a stylish café, bar, and retail space featuring branded products and cars people can sit in, but can’t drive.

Apps featuring luxury vehicles for car-sharing are giving this same market a chance to experience the brand culture—and actually test-drive the vehicle—until they can afford to buy. Data by Shanghai’s new car-sharing platform TOGO, which features mainly Mercedes-Benz vehicles, shows that more than 60 percent of its users are millennials, according to China Daily.

As part of its upscale upgrade, Ezzy is tapping this younger, digitally savvy consumer with keyless cars and a new app design that is vaguely reminiscent of Uber’s polished, urban feel. It also removed its logo and conspicuous branding from the cars to help users feel like they could be driving their own car. These users pay a monthly RMB 1,200 (about US$175) subscription fee to become a VIP member, or have the option to simply pay a RMB 2,000 (about US$300) deposit to borrow the car of their choice and are charged about US$4 per hour.

The Beijing-based company hopes to have 5,000 cars available for sharing across China by the end of this year, and if trends are anything to go by, other luxury fleets may be following close behind.

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Mobile, Tech