Paulin Dementhon on the future of P2P Car Sharing

Sep 27, 2012
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Just last week, P2P Car-sharing service Voiturelib announced a fund-raising round of €2 Million – investors included Alven Capital & Index Ventures. The service, which counts 5,000 cars actively available to rent in France alone and more than 50,000 registered users as of September, allows everyday Joe’s like you and me to rent cars from other everyday Joes, who put their car up for rent on the site. Voiturelib seemed to be in a stage where it is ready to grow, & with the capital it just received, I sat down and talked with Paulin about what exactly the future holds for Voiturelib and P2P car-sharing in general.

Background: professional car rental, Zip Car & American competitors

The first thing Paulin made perfectly clear is that P2P car-sharing will never entirely remove car rental agencies appealing to travelers and movers: “we’re never going to have the bandwidth to have as many cars available for rent at the Airport as a traditional car rental agency,” says Dementhon – but that doesn’t mean they can’t take them down a peg. Previous startups like Robin Chase’s Zip Car demonstrated that a car parked in a parking lot could be my car – at least for a little while.

Other collaborative consumption startups have already cleared the way for the P2P mindset. P2P marketplaces like LeBonCoin & Zilok allow you to buy & sell everything from a microwave to your car. The real estate rental department has been steadily drifting towards a P2P marketplace in the past few years – in France, site’s like PAP, LeBonCoin, Craigslist, and FUSAC offer students an alternative to the hefty sum they’ll have to commit to a rental agency. Sites like Airbnb have disrupted the short-term rental marketplace, as well – or more, created it. As these barriers drop, consumers seem more & more at ease with renting out other objects; and Voiturelib seems proof of that.

Many competitors exist in this space, and there’s no getting around that; however, Dementhon is confident that they’ve got the leg up:

“So many startups in the space went hardware-first, offering to install devices in every user’s car. While there is a definite eventual need for this, we’ve chosen to go software-first, and it seems that many of our competitors are leaning away from hardware, realizing that the initial investment is too heavy.”

Hourly rentals: the next frontier

Currently, users on Voiturelib can rent their car out on a per-day basis: the car-owner and renter agree upon a time to meet and exchange keys, check the car, etc. This has permitted thousands of car-owners to make use of their oft-unused cars, and has even got some people buying cars and putting them on Voiturelib permanently. It’s got a lower minimum capital investment than real estate, and there are no pesky requirements that a car-owner must drive their own car while they’re paying off their loans, as with primary residences in France.

“The future is hourly, and it is the connected car.” say Dementhon, though the future might yet be over the horizon. Dementhon’s vision for P2P car-sharing demands a high level of trust between renters and car owners; though, Voiturelib’s car insurance insures every car-owner, and with debit cards on file for anyone who rents, the risks associated with car-renting have been severely diminished. Once this trust is achieved, Dementhon feels, there is a greater vision of being able to rent a car for 3 hours, to make an Ikea trip, without ever having to meet with the driver. This is where the aforementioned hardware may come in; however, Dementhon pointed out that with carmakers beginning to talk more & more about the connected car, extra hardware may not necessarily be needed.

For now, Voiturelib is working on getting more cars, more renters, and taking their now stable marketplace (there is a fair balance of cars and renters) and scaling it up to becoming the destination for P2P ride-sharing in France.