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GM launches Maven, a car-sharing service to compete with Zipcar

First Ann Arbor, Michigan... then the world

General Motors is predicting that around 30 million people will be using car sharing over the next decade, where users rent out shared vehicles at an hourly rate. As such, the automaker is launching its own car-sharing service today called Maven.

To start out, Maven will only be available in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but GM says it will expand the service to other cities in the coming months. GM vehicles will be available in 21 spots around the city for interested customers to rent out at a rate of $6-an-hour. There is no membership fee, which represents a departure from other services like ZipCar and Car2Go.

"Very easy to use, highly personalized... "

"What this is all about... is making sure that we can provide a service that's completely seamless, completely connected, very easy to use, highly personalized, and a very efficient way to get around from A to B, from a car utilization perspective," said GM President Dan Ammann in a conference call with reporters Wednesday evening.

Ammann said about 40 people would be working at Maven, including former employees of Google, ZipCar, and the discontinued ride-hail service Sidecar, which GM recently acquired.

Customers can use their smartphones to access the vehicle and turn it on remotely, as well as operate the heating and cooling systems. The fleet will be comprised of Chevy Spark models, and eventually Bolts too when they rollout later in 2016. The vehicles will have 4G LTE connectivity, and will be compatible with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM. Julia Steyn, GM's vice president for urban mobility, said the key was to make "the passenger and customer to feel like it's your own vehicle."

GM has been telegraphing this move for months. Last October, the company announced a program called "Let's Drive NYC," in which residents of a single apartment building in Manhattan received three hours of car-sharing per month. Last month, the automaker announced that it was investing $500 million in LyftUber's main competitor in the ride-hail industry, to create a fleet of autonomous, on-demand vehicles.

GM also announced its plan to expand its residential car-sharing service to Chicago, as well as grow the size of the Let's Drive NYC program. Both programs will be folded under Maven, and will be available to 5,000 residents in both cities.

It's a move that was once unconventional for a legacy automaker, but is now growing more common place. Ford recently announced a new leasing program for shared groups of people. In launching Maven, GM acknowledges that car-sharing and ride-sharing is growing increasingly popular as an alternative to personal car ownership. Ammann said the launch of Maven was meant to signal GM's intention to embrace these changes in transportation, rather than try to fight against them.

"Much more an opportunity for [GM] than it is a threat... "

"Car-share [and] ride-share, in general, is much more an opportunity for General Motors than it is a threat," he said. "It's already a sizeable marketplace, and it's growing quite rapidly."

Ammann also noted that cars belonging to just one person or family sit idle "95 percent to 96 percent of the time," while vehicles that are shared are driven much more frequently. That means higher vehicle turnover, which represents another opportunity for car makers like GM.

"The fundamental dis-economics, if you like, of the conventional owner-driver model is driving a lot of this change and is what creates the opportunity," he added.