Many Japanese car-sharing patrons are not driving the cars they rent. The Asahi Shimbun reports that car-sharing companies such as Orix Auto Corp., Times24 Co., and NTT Docomo Inc., have become aware that about one in eight car-share renters put zero miles on the clock.
Turns out they use the cars to take a nap, store shopping bags, make phone calls, have meetings, recharge phones, and so on. One respondent to a user survey said he rented a car to have somewhere to eat his lunch.
Car “habitation” costs about 400 yen (under 4 dollars) for 30 minutes. There are tens of thousands of cars from the various sharing firms all over Tokyo. Access is just a matter of a smartphone click.
This is a sublime example of a strategic foresight principle “change the economics, change the future”. When a fundamental cost-benefit threshold falls, all kinds of new and surprising consumer use patterns become plausible. Expect the unexpected.
If you’re looking to anticipate the future in any consumer-driven arena, look to where things are becoming unexpectedly cheap, or old, longstanding value-for-money assumptions are under threat. There was a time when computer memory came at a premium. When it became cheap ‘the cloud’ and all its knock-on implications became possible.
Similarly, when things that were hard to do become easy. Where hassle-factor assumptions change, that also opens side doors into all kinds of new use.
In this case, due to plunging cost and hassle, the market for low-cost short-term, private(ish) space in the city had suddenly fallen at the feet of the car-sharing companies.
People out and about in the city need somewhere to “park” themselves from time to time. Yes, there are locker services. There are coffee shops. But nothing really serves this need more comprehensively.
Car-share companies could easily switch off this habitation sideline use by charging a no-drive penalty. In other words, try to defend their business model. Car-share rental upfront costs are so low because of the two-part structure of revenue acquisition. Companies compete on a temptingly low time cost, expecting to make their money on the travel portion.
But once the new user need cat is out of the bag, old business models become hard to defend. The car-share company that continues to allow us to store our shopping bags for cheap is the one we will go to when we have to actually drive to a nephew’s graduation.
Side doors of new use opened by changing cost or hassle tradeoffs suggest new future markets.
The real challenge for companies lucky enough to have users “overuse” their products is to recognize that the future coming at them, and adapt in time to be lead providers of what people need and want to do.