Last night while digging around in the USPTO’s Trademark Database, TESS, I came across a request filed last month by Audi AG for the name AUDI ACCESS. The description was as such, “Motor vehicle sharing services, namely, scheduling, planning, organizing, managing and providing the temporary use of motor vehicles; providing a website and application for mobile devices for scheduling, planning, organizing, managing and paying for temporary use of motor vehicles, short term rental and leasing of automobiles.”
I’m no expert on the automotive industry or patent law, but this looks like a car sharing service (see my closing statement where I say I could be utterly wrong).
Does short term rental = car sharing?
Car sharing is an inevitable future of automotive that brands would be wise to embrace, make-it-their-own and roll it out in places where it makes sense (that is critical).
The success and fundamental basis for any sharing service is access and it looks like Audi knows that as they’ve put it right in the name. Sharing, or short-term rental, is becoming a trend. You can now rent/share high-end items like watches and cameras (renting a $6,000+ camera is awesome and I do it often).
In the famous words of most grandparents, why buy the cow if you can have the milk for free. While sharing luxury items isn’t free, it does beg the question: why take on the financial burden of owning luxury when you can borrow it?
For automotive this is especially important for inner-city populations. Hipster-kids buried in college debt and fat cat ad men share one thing in common – they likely live in a city where owning a car is a pain in the ass.
While both have very different reasons for not owning a vehicle – they share the occasionally need to get away. Whether it be jetting off to a vineyard for the day or hitting up a U-Pick outside of the city; car sharing serves both.
Mr. Fat Cat NYC Ad Man, here is your (temporary) A6. Mr. Veggie Hipster, here is your (temporary) TDI Q5.
I’m a fan of car sharing for one reason – it makes sense.
According to the US Census from 2000 to 2010 urban populations grew at 12% and that growth will likely continue. It’s important for automakers to acknowledge this and provide services that allow users to experience their brand, even if temporary.
The hope is that when these 'car shares' are ready to purchase a vehicle automakers can leverage the trust and/or top of mind awareness they've developed while serving their vehicle needs through car sharing. It's a (very) long-lead marketing tool.
Sure, Audi could sell a fleet of A4s to ZipCar and call it a day, but that wouldn’t net the same benefit that comes from a future car-owner interacting with a brand directly. And for a luxury brand like Audi it’s important to control the customer experience from start to finish and that can only happen if they own the process.
Dealers are watching
The bigger question here; at what point will the auto dealer’s lobbying group, NADA, put the brakes on what could be seen as a threat to car buying and as such a direct threat to dealers?
It won’t be long before a group of dealers try to make the case that car-sharing is a way to circumvent the direct-to-consumer protections that dealer franchises claim to provide buyers.
It’s important to note that I could be reading this all wrong. I don’t have the media contacts to verify what this all means and I hope that a journalist can reach out to Audi and get a comment on this filing. This could just be a new service offered by the dealer and I spent all evening writing this for nothing.
Either way, I look forward to hearing your take on car sharing and any benefits you see it having for automakers, America and for car people.
Personally I think it could result in more licensed drivers, which would spark a rebirth of the automotive culture. You know, the one the AP said is dead in America. rolls eyes