"Was ist car2go black?" That's what Germans living in Hamburg and Berlin who use the car-sharing service were asking back in February, when car2go introduced an elite spin-off. Daimler AG, which owns car2go, added 200 Mercedes-Benz B-Class cars to complement its standard fleet of Smart ForTwo cars in those cities.
In the last week, car2go users across the U.S. started asking the same question, after some of them—the most frequent car2go users, whom the service calls its "advocates"—received black cards in the mail.
I've apparently done so much to pad Car2Go's bottom line in DC that they gave me a stealthy black membership card: pic.twitter.com/eO6oZJEZtt— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) July 9, 2014
What privileges does a black card confer? The mailer that comes with it doesn't list any. John DeLong, chief marketing officer for car2go, has been all over Twitter, promising that perks for black-card members will be revealed soon. DeLong is mum about what these benefits might be, responding by email to say, "With so many competitors in the carsharing category, I wanted to do something special to say Thank You that stood out." Since it would be irresponsible not to speculate, here are six best guesses.
This one's a no-brainer. Everyone knows that having a black card is better than not having a black card. Now there's even a black card for people whose incomes don't support the unlimited spending ceiling that the American Express black card promises. Soon, everyone will have black cards. But for now, only elite car2go members get black car2go cards. Status alone makes the black card worthwhile, but car2go has promised that other perks are coming.
2. Ginormous Smart Cars
This week, Daimler is unveiling its next-generation Smart cars in Berlin. While the Smart ForTwo car is the familiar model seen in the 10 U.S. cities (and more in Canada and Europe) where car2go is available, the next generation of Smart ForTwo cars will be larger. Not monster-truck large, but slightly bigger.
In response to a question over whether BigCars would overcrowd cities, the mock promo video returns, "Do whales overcrowd the ocean?" Yet it's a real question that the point-to-point car-sharing service faced in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the local nonprofit Transit for Livable Communities asked city leaders to require car2go to pay annual fees for using St. Paul streets ($400) and occupying St. Paul parking spaces ($500). Both fees were included in the city's agreement with car2go, which starts service there this month.
The service pays the city of Minneapolis even more, but not because the cars there are larger than houses, sadly.
3. Freedom From Parking Regulations
Tom Woznick, parking operations manager for the Madison Parking Utility, thinks that car2go could free up parking in Madison, Wisconsin—if it were legal for car2go to operate there. Right now, state law forbids vehicles from parking on city streets indefinitely.
Elsewhere, WAMU's Martin di Caro talked to a planning professor who cited car2go specifically as a reason why planners should abandon mandatory parking minimums requirements for new developments in Washington, D.C. While the city's Office of Planning pursued that angle for a while, the agency abandoned the reforms because a world without parking minimums was wigging people out.
Rolling back the way that cities subsidize parking would be one hell of a benefit to point-to-point car-sharing services, but that might be a perk beyond the power of a black card.
4. car2go black
This one's pretty obvious: Maybe Daimler is planning to roll out its Mercedes-Benz B-Class fleet in the U.S. In Germany, car2go black employs dedicated parking stations, like ZipCar. But unlike ZipCar, car2go black users can pick up a Benz hatchback from one dedicated parking spot and park it in another dedicated parking spot—even in another city. (So far, it's only available in Hamburg and Berlin.) Members in North America have been asked in surveys whether they use various hybird sharing–rental models, including ZipCar, Enterprise Carshare, Hertz 24/7, and other similar services, suggesting a possible new direction.
5. car2go families
Yesterday, Uber announced that it is partnering with Care.com to introduce UberFamily, "the on-demand car seat option for parents on the go." That's right, an Uber with a car seat in it. Consider the station wagon disrupted.
By adding a Benz hatchback to its service options, car2go would be expanding its demographic reach beyond childless urbanites to include parents with children. In a way, by introducing larger cars with more family-friendly options, car-sharing services like Uber (and maybe now car2go) are enabling a kind of "aging in place" for ride-sharing, with options that track users lives as they grow and have kids and so on.
Adding a family option wouldn't necessarily require introducing the fancy car2go black service in the U.S. Tomorrow, Daimler is also unveiling its 2015 Smart ForFour, a four-door model that could suffice for expanding car-sharing service to the soccer-practice set.
6. Class War
My favorite guess is that a black car will enable car2go users to request and reserve any car on the street. Overriding other users' reservations would also do. Until car2go explains what, if anything, elite card startus garners, black card–carrying royals should feel fully entitled to lord it over mere blue card–wielding normals.