Is Chicago becoming a hub for car-related apps?

August 12, 2015

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Is Chicago emerging as the make-it-or-break-it hub for digital tech innovation in the automobile industry?

After this summer’s cascade of car-centered launches and acquisitions, it sure feels like it.

Here’s a quick recap: Since the beginning of June, Uber picked Chicago to start building 1,000,000 new driving jobs for women globally. In July, four new car apps launched in the city during one week alone, joining an already crowded parking lot of car-related tech platforms. Just last week, leading European carmakers headed to Chicago to pick up Nokia’s HERE (a digital cartography company formerly known as Navteq) for a whopping $1.8 billion.

And now, another auto tech company is rolling into town— this time, as part of a $715,000 two-year study on peer-to-peer carsharing in the city.

San Francisco’s Getaround, which has already raised around $40 million in funding, launched this week in Chicago. Getaround allows users to rent their unused cars out to other members. Renters can expect to pay an average of $8/hour or $60/day. 

The launch coincides with Getaround's participation in the federally-funded study through the city’s Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC) and the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT).

“The City of Chicago has long been a leader in using innovative ideas to expand quality, safe transportation options – from our popular bike share system to ridesharing – and the fact that Chicago has been chosen for this important new study on carsharing underscores that leading role,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement about the study. “From the success of our bike sharing program to our many investments to build a 21st century mass transit system, Chicago will continue leading the way forward when it comes to identifying the best ideas for making neighborhoods safer, healthier, and more economically vibrant.”

The Federal Highway Administration will fund the study, though that money will be administered by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Chicago Department of Transportation. Additional funding support will also be provided by CNT.

“The main goal of peer-to-peer carsharing is to make it possible to live without owning a car and overall, to make much more efficient use of vehicles that people already own,” said Sharon Feigon, SUMC’s executive director and former CEO of Chicago’s IGO CarSharing.

Feigon added that in Chicago, cars sit unused almost 95 percent of the time — a number that’s slightly higher than the national average.

The study plans to explore the impact and efficacy of peer-to-peer carsharing across Chicago, in areas ranging from low-density suburban communities like Evanston and lower-income neighborhoods like Bridgeport or Pilsen to what Feigon called “closed network communities” like large apartment complexes.

Using Getaround’s innovative Getaround Connect technology, SUMC can collect anonymous trip data in order to help make appropriate policies and program decisions about carsharing as the sharing economy continues to excel.

“We’re thrilled and honored (to be apart of the study with the SUMC),” said Getaround founder Jessica Scorpio. “They do really good work in Chicago, and they’re definitely a research leader. Some of the work we’ll be doing together will set the standards that will allow carsharing to become even more prevalent throughout the US and globally.”

Scorpio said using Getaround is safe, convenient, and backed by $1 million of auto insurance coverage. Users simply download the free app to get registered as a member.

And the service is also good for the socially-conscious.

“With Getaround, you’re better optimizing cars that already exist,” Scorpio said. “You’re giving money directly to your neighbor, and you’re getting cars off the road, which helps reduce congestion and improve air quality.”

Chicago is Getaround’s seventh venture into a new market after its 2011 launch at TechCrunch’s Disrupt NYC. They’re celebrating that launch at an event next Thursday, August 19.

The company already has 8,000 members in the Chicagoland area, and their goal is to have over 1,000 cars — from convertibles and smaller city cars to pickup trucks — registered in the city. Scorpio said at least 300 of those cars will be used in the study.

Getaround currently has about 100 team members, and they’re hiring for new positions in Chicago.

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