Car-sharing has evolved a lot just during the past few years. While this new form of mobility is available is most bigger countries, especially major cities throughout the US and Europe, it still hasn't found it's way into the Middle East until a year or two ago.
There was a big, gaping hole in the Middle East and we knew right away that Dubai being such a forward thinking city, as well as Abu Dhabi for that matter, would be perfect candidates to launch such a service in this region.
—Vilhelm Hedberg, ekar
Vilhelm Hedberg and Ravi Bhusari launched ekar back in 2016 and has become the largest car-sharing platform within the region. The platform offers a large choice of cars that consumers can rent and unlock through their smartphone.
“When I, in 2014, was looking into it with my partner, we noticed that the Middle East region had zero car-sharing operations,” says Hedberg, who is also the Chief Executive of ekar.
“There was a big, gaping hole in the Middle East and we knew right away that Dubai being such a forward thinking city, as well as Abu Dhabi for that matter, would be perfect candidates to launch such a service in this region.”
Ekar tries to make renting a car simpler so consumers don't need to return to the same location to rent or return their vehicle. Users can pick up and leave their rented cars wherever they wish and pay by the minute at a lesser cost than a usual ride-hailing service.
Currently the platform boasts a fleet of around 500 cars with 75,000 users, but it's grown a lot from the beginning when it only offered their services to cabin crews of Etihad Airways.
“We recognised the problem and we solved the problem for the cabin crew who are typically in the region for about 10 days a month, and it’s not cost-effective for them to have their own cars,” Hedberg says. “Providing the cabin crew with a network of cars was a win-win.”
After it launched for Etihad, the service then began offering for Emirates as well.
And when ekar was with Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority program in early 2017 the platform found new growth within cities and helped the company expand into a larger market.
When the platform launched with the RTA, the average use was around 30 minutes per car, per day. Now their cars get used for what is considered the optimal amount, seven hours a day. The RTA helped the company brand at public transportation and with radio ads that helped the service within Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“We have in the neighbourhood of about 15,000 app openings everyday [with people] looking for a car, and we are only booking 1,500 [cars]. We are actually looking to significantly increase the supply of vehicles,” Hedberg said.
Now the platform plans to expand their currently fleet and is continuing to develop their relationship with auto brands like Infinity and Volkswagen. Ekar currently either leases these cars directly from dealers or uses them with a profit-sharing arrangement where the company gets the car for free and splits their profits at around 50-50.
“I can guarantee the dealership that we will have the car driven around seven hours per car per day, which is a highly profitable amount of time for that car to be driven,” Hedberg adds.
Ekar has already opened offices in Riyadh and is preparing to expand their operations in the city as well.
“Saudi Arabia, we are there. [In] the remaining [Arabian] Gulf countries, Turkey and Egypt – we are looking to achieve the [expansion] goal by 2022 with 10,000 cars and a million members. That is the plan,” Hedberg said.
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