GM creates Maven car-sharing brand

DETROIT (Reuters) - General Motors Co said on Thursday that it was creating a car-sharing brand as it joins at least two other automakers testing the market for vehicles consumers borrow rather than own.

The brand, called Maven, will create new and expand existing car-sharing efforts, including one in Germany that will keep the CarUnity name and operate as it has since mid-2015.

In the United States, GM will use the Maven name for a car-sharing program set to start this month with a small fleet to be offered to the general public in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

This type of program will expand to other cities this year, with consumer demand determining the scope and pace, said Julia Steyn, head of GM’s urban mobility programs.

Maven will also be the name for car-sharing among 5,000 people in residential developments in Chicago and New York. The Chicago effort will begin in the first quarter, and the existing New York one will be expanded and its name changed to Maven from Let’s Drive NYC.

“Maven” is a Yiddish word for expert.

GM President Dan Ammann said Maven was not ride-sharing. That is offered by Lyft Inc, in which GM invested $500 million.

In ride-sharing, customers summon cars and someone drives them. In car-sharing, customers use a smart phone app or other device to access cars to drive themselves.

Ammann would not reveal how much the company is investing or how many GM cars will be in the Maven fleet.

Hourly rates start at as little as $6 for a small car or $12 for a large one, according to website GM’s Maven, like the efforts by rival automakers, aims to convince sceptical investors that auto industry incumbents can move into new markets such as car sharing instead of waiting for upstarts to undermine their franchises. Carmakers’ mobility service ventures will have to compete with well-capitalized challengers such as Uber Technologies Inc, the ride-hailing company, or ventures that might be launched by Silicon Valley technology powers Apple Inc or Alphabet Inc. Ammann said worldwide between 5 million and 6 million people use ride sharing and car sharing, a figure he expects to expand four- or five-fold by the end of the decade. Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz luxury brand has grouped ride-sharing and ride-hailing ventures under the “Mercedesme” brand, which like GM’s Maven aggregates a smartphone app, access to short- and longer-term rentals, and access to taxis and mass transit.

Ford Motor Co last week launched the FordPass brand as an umbrella for mobility services.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Lisa Von Ahn