Shared and parked.

Traffic jams and smog are not the only problems in China. Parking spaces are another – and without them, car sharing does not work. In Chengdu, a city with a population of more than 14 million, the BMW Group is looking for other solutions for its new electric fleet.

People in China like to share, including their means of transport. First it was bicycles. Within just a few months of their arrival, the orange, lime and blue wheels of the local bike-sharing providers could be seen congregating on street corners and flooding city centres.

Car sharing quickly followed – and the boom began. In 2015 there were only 14,000 shared cars on the roads in China’s big cities, but today there are more than 40,000. And there are high hopes for car sharing in China. According to recent studies by PWC, car sharing has the potential to prevent traffic congestion in the country. With the ongoing economic upturn, the number of vehicles (currently around 180 million) could reach its peak in ten years’ time at 310 million – but thanks to car sharing, this could drop back to around 280 million vehicles by 2030.

The transition is not entirely straightforward, however, as all the shared vehicles owned by the now more than 40 car sharing providers have one thing in common: they have to be parked. And parking in most major cities is severely limited, if not impossible, due to a lack of urban planning and poor traffic management.

Nevertheless, the BMW Group – together with the Chinese car sharing provider Evcard – has ventured into the Asian market. In December, the BMW team launched a purely electric car sharing fleet in Chengdu, a city with a population of over 14 million in the southwest of China. With their car sharing brand ReachNow, which was launched in the US in 2016, they are taking a somewhat different approach to their Chinese competitors. For example, there are permanent parking stations for the 100 BMW i3s in the fleet, “where customers can park or pick up their vehicles”, says Joe Pattinson, who heads Mobility Services at BMW Group China. Vehicles can also be charged at the parking stations using the charging posts provided by Evcard. “To make it more convenient for people we try to ensure that there are parking stations through the city and are adding more stations all the time”, says Pattinson. The fact that this service is slightly more expensive than other local mobility services such as Didi or Lyft is not an issue for the BMW Group. “People in China are very conscious of status”, says Pattinson. For this reason they are willing to pay slightly more for a premium vehicle which is clean and kept in excellent condition.

The initial 25 parking stations for the 100 BMW i3s were placed with this in mind: in attractive residential areas, and outside offices for large companies, government buildings and five-star hotels. Pattinson, who enjoys driving his own electric car though his adopted homeland is sure his fellow residents will love the eco-conscious, quiet city cars – “precisely because of their premium quality.”