Ford joins competitors in growing car-sharing field

(Reuters) - Ford Motor Co F.N will test new car-sharing programs with U.S. and UK partners as part of a strategy to embrace alternatives to traditional car ownership, including more flexible on-demand models.

The corporate logo of Ford is seen at a Ford branch in Caracas March 27, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Ford’s finance arm is launching pilot car-sharing programs with Getaround in the United States and easyCar Club in London, Ford Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields said Tuesday evening. The automaker last month announced a similar on-demand pilot called GoDrive in London.

Ford is entering the car-sharing field more than three years after U.S. competitor General Motors Co GM.N announced a partnership with San Francisco-based RelayRides.

Like Getaround and easyCar Club, RelayRides connects vehicle owners with other consumers looking for short-term rentals in what is called peer-to-peer sharing. Individuals typically connect via mobile apps on smartphones.

Several European automakers operate or have an interest in car-sharing firms, including Daimler AG's DAIGn.DE car2go, BMW AG's BMWG.DE DriveNow and Volkswagen AG's VOWG_p.DE Quicar and Greenwheels.

Founded in 2008, Car2go, with more than 1 million members worldwide, also has operations in several U.S. cities.

Unlike peer-to-peer sharing services, the automakers' ventures maintain their own on-demand rental fleets, as does Zipcar, a U.S. ride-sharing company that was acquired in 2013 by rental-car company Avis Budget Group Inc CAR.O.

Ford’s new pilot programs with Getaround and easyCar Club will enable owners of vehicles financed by Ford Motor Credit Co to rent their cars to prescreened clients. The U.S. pilot is being launched in three California cities - San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley - as well as Chicago, Washington and Portland.

RelayRides, founded in 2010, and Getaround, founded in 2009, are startups funded largely with venture capital and have yet to go public.

GM is an investor in RelayRides through its venture capital arm GM Ventures. Google Ventures is another investor, as is Detroit-based Fontinalis Partners. Ford Motor Chairman Bill Ford is a partner in Fontinalis.

Getaround so far has limited its activities to a handful of U.S. cities, including San Francisco, San Diego, Austin, Portland and Chicago.

Venture investors in Getaround include Cox Automotive, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and actor Ashton Kutcher. Another investor is Barney Pell, founder and chairman of LocoMobi, a “smart parking” startup also funded by Fontinalis.

The peer-to-peer car sharing services are different from ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, which function more as alternatives to taxis. Fontinalis is an investor in Lyft, while Kutcher is an investor in Uber.

Reporting by Paul Lienert and Julia Love in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker