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Young Businessman Driving in a CarWhat’s the hottest trend in rental car companies these days? Bypassing the rental car companies and renting straight from the car owners themselves. Well actually, renting through any number of “sharing” start-ups.

FlightCar is one such car-sharing agent, reports The New York Times in a recent article. It rents out travelers’ personal vehicles to travelers, wooing car owners with free airport parking while they’re away, $10 for each day the car is rented, rentals insured up to $1 million, pre-screened renters, and depending on the make and year of the vehicle, 20 cents a mile in cash. Plus a free car wash!  The attraction for renters? Lower prices.

FlightCar may be the latest company to tackle car sharing but it is far from alone―the growing marketplace includes RelayRides, Getaround, Lyft and Sidecar.

“Traditionally, car sharing had been a round-trip shared-use model supplied by a third-party operator,” said Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Recently, we have seen more peer-to-peer shared use mobility models. These services are facilitated by a third party, which helps to manage and facilitate between individuals sharing privately owned vehicles.”

Kevin Petrovic, Rujul Zaparde and Shri Ganeshram, FlightCar’s founders, used Airbnb as their inspiration. “It just makes more sense; it’s more green, and the way the trends are going, we believe this is the future,” said Mr. Zaparde. “Hopefully down the road they’ll be more sharing of other objects. It opens the door to the sharing economy.”

In some cases, car sharing sounds more like a dating service than a business transaction. Says RelayRides on its website, “You’re always in charge who can rent your car. We’ll notify you when somebody wants to rent your car. Check out their profile and ratings, and decide whether the trip works for you.”

In contrast, Getaround gets downright philosophical on its site: “We’re solving a problem that we call car overpopulation. Our current transportation system isn’t sustainable. There are 1 billion cars in the world. Unfortunately, we’re set to double this in the next 10 years. Each shared car takes 13 cars off the road. You can make a difference by sharing a car. The average car sits idle 22 hours per day. That’s 20 billion car hours wasted every day,” it states.

And while Lyft seems to want to connect with the inner BFF in all of us (“You ask for a ride, it rolls up, you get into the front seat and you give the driver a fist bump. This sounds like something you do when your best friend picks you up.”), Sidecar takes a no-nonsense approach. Its slogan: “A better way to get around.”

Yet amidst all this flurry of feel-good car sharing, one thing seems clear―as the “sharing” industry continues to spread, the complexity of the business model remains to be defined in the automotive market. Case in point: FlightCar estimates it will take 12 years for the company to become profitable.

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