Uber, Lyft, and now … BMW?
The German car-maker is gearing up to launch an Uber and Lyft competitor through its ReachNow platform in Seattle.
ReachNow is a free-floating car-sharing service that made its worldwide debut in Seattle this past May. It lets anyone rent one of 520 vehicles — a mix of BMW 328xi Series sedans, MINI Cooper/Countryman, and the all-electric BMW i3 — and get from Point A to Point B within a “Home Area” that encompasses much of Seattle proper. You use a physical card or the mobile app to lock/unlock vehicles; you can park in any city-approved spot for free; and you pay a $0.49 per-minute fee.
Now BMW is preparing to expand beyond the free-floating program.
GeekWire spotted 3 Series sedans in Seattle that now have a TNC (Transportation Network Company) permit visible on the dashboard, in addition to the free-floating car-sharing permit. The City of Seattle requires all TNC vehicles, like those driven by Uber and Lyft drivers, to display a TNC permit.
A city spokesperson confirmed that ReachNow is working with regulators and inspectors to make sure its fleet can meet all TNC requirements related to safety, insurance, dispatch systems, and more. BMW has already performed some inspections, the spokesperson said, but the process is not yet finalized.
ReachNow will be operating under the same regulatory framework that all TNCs like Uber and Lyft must follow. The City of Seattle established those laws in 2014 for companies like Uber and Lyft that allow everyday people to use their own vehicle to offer rides to customers.
TNC companies, along with their drivers and vehicles, are required to have city-issued licenses/permits in order to legally operate. The City of Seattle partners with King County to manage the approval process.
BMW initially announced its plans for the ride-hailing service back in May, when it launched ReachNow in Seattle. Speaking at the launch event, Peter Schwarzenbauer, member of the Board of Management of BMW AG, said that the chauffeur service would offer a more “premium experience” than Uber or Lyft with vehicles that BMW owns, versus personal cars driven by Uber and Lyft drivers.
“We think this is a completely different level of quality,” he said.
ReachNow CEO Steve Banfield on Monday declined to provide any additional details about when BMW’s TNC service will launch.
Banfield previously told GeekWire in May that there were plans to roll out an Uber competitor, but it was unclear when that would happen.
It’s also unclear how exactly ReachNow would operate as an Uber or Lyft competitor. But it’s possible that BMW would allow licensed TNC drivers to use its licensed TNC vehicles — like those that we’ve already spotted — to give other ReachNow customers a ride from A to B. Customers could hypothetically use the ReachNow app to either reserve their own vehicle to drive, or, with this new service, hail a ride.
BMW partners with a Bay Area startup called RideCell to help power its back-end ReachNow infrastructure.
Based on Schwarzenbauer’s comments about the “premium” quality, ReachNow is likely to charge more than Uber or Lyft for its ride-hailing service. On price, it will likely line up more with Uber’s own premium offering, UberBlack.
ReachNow, which competes with Car2go and Zipcar, quickly saw traction with its free-floating program in Seattle, racking up more than 13,000 members in its first month of operation. BMW added another 150 vehicles in June, and there are now a total of 520 cars. Seattle was the initial launch city; ReachNow expanded to Portland last month.
ReachNow has also added other services, like the airport service it launched in August, and new long-term rates. Possible additional programs include a concierge option where BMW brings you a vehicle, instead of you having to find one yourself, or a way for BMW owners to lease their own cars within the ReachNow network.
“The service we will offer is completely different than just car-sharing,” Schwarzenbauer said at the launch event in May. “We would see ourselves right now as the only one to be on the market which tries to cover every need you might have in your mobility life.”
The City of Seattle approved legislation in 2015 that enabled ReachNow to launch its original service in the city. Car2go already operated in Seattle, and the new ordinance paved the way for three additional free-floating car-sharing programs that could have up to 750 permits each.
That means BMW could add another 230 vehicles to its current fleet, giving it more flexibility to include the new TNC program.
Seattle is a key market for Uber, which began operating here in 2011 and often uses the city as a testbed for new products. The company also has a large engineering center in Seattle with more than 100 employees; Lyft, which launched its car-hailing services in Seattle three years ago, also has an engineering office in the city.
Uber recently voiced its support for a major transportation-related proposition that would add 37 stations and 62 miles of light rail in the Seattle area. The company, now valued at more than $60 billion, said the prop “would be a significant and overdue step toward putting in place the comprehensive transportation system the Seattle area needs.”
Editor’s note: Thanks to the anonymous tipster who noticed the TNC stickers. Email your tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: ReachNow is a GeekWire advertiser.