You knew it would come. In an age when we rarely own movies, but rent DVDs from our computers with Netflix and Blockbuster Online, or watch films and shows on-demand the day after they air.
And now, if you’re a Munich resident, you can order a luxury car on demand, directly from the manufacturer. BMW is starting a German pilot program where customers can go online and rent a car for the day at a very reasonable cost.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, BMW is looking toward a future where people may not purchase vehicles at the same rate that they do currently. The automaker is also looking for ways to give people the opportunity to try out models that they could purchase in the future.
If you own a 3 Series and would love to drive a 7 Series some day soon, rent one for the day and drive it around. See how it handles and if it clears your driveway or fits in your garage before you seriously consider investing in the vehicle.
Other companies, such as Zip Car, have delved into the “autos on demand” market already. But unlike what Zip Car is doing successfully in cities throughout the world (renters pick up cars parked in various designated spots throughout a metropolitan area), BMW requires that the renter pick up and deliver the car back to BMW World adjacent to the BMW headquarters in Germany. And of course, the car rental industry has been around for decades, but BMW has done what few other manufacturers have, but renting out their cars directly, not through a separate rental agency.
Even if some customers can’t afford to buy a BMW today, exposing them to how a BMW differs from other cars can only help the automaker.
If a driver is used to driving an Audi, but rents an M5 to see how it drives and handles, it may make their next car buying decision a little more challenging down the road. Selling the rental experience could be some of the best marketing dollars spent if it exposes possible fans to the BMW brand, and makes them believers in what the manufacturer sells.
The fact that BMW is trying to set the trend curve rather than react to it is admirable. That the BMW rental experience will be booked and arranged online shows that they can see the future with clear eyes. No reason to have people call a showroom and pay employees to manage a bank of phones when they can use an online system where the computer does all the work and leaves the driver with exactly what they want. I would assume that it will be iPhone, Android, Blackberry, and Palm accessible so that busy executives and hip trendsetters alike can book their BMW from anywhere with a wireless signal.
If the pilot program is successful, BMW should look to expand the program to regions in key markets throughout the U.S., and tap into the car-sharing business (like Zip Car) that is projected to reach 4.5 million North American members by 2016.