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Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

Car-sharing a no-brainer for the cost-conscious among us


Owning a car is never cheap: It entails a variety of expenses, from parking fees to insurance to road maintenance taxes.

Because of this, car-sharing is now becoming a favored approach for a rapidly growing number of people as they try to pinch pennies and feel less inclined to drive everywhere.

A 33-year-old working mother became a registered member with a car-sharing station run by Time24 Co. near her home in Koto Ward, Tokyo, last spring. She rents a car whenever she takes her 2-year-old daughter to and from a day care center.

"I rent a car for 15 minutes in both the morning and evening and also drive one occasionally to do shopping," she says. "I pay less than ¥10,000 a month. This way is convenient and I save a lot of money."

When she owned a car, she would pay ¥30,000 to ¥40,000 per month just for gasoline.

Time24 entered the business in 2009, starting out with a fleet of 258 vehicles. The company, now the industry leader, ran 2,451 car-sharing stations nationwide with a total of 3,381 cars for rent as of the end of last year. The number of registered customers exceeds 80,000.

The registration fee is ¥1,500 and rental charges start at ¥200 per 15 minutes. It offers 17 models, mostly compacts. There are no geographical restrictions on where the cars can be taken.

Corporations account for around 30 percent of the customers. Their sales staff often rent cars while making their rounds to customers, according to Time24.

"Our service makes things quicker than if our corporate customers use their own cars. Besides, it is also eco-friendly," says Hideyuki Hayashi, a manager with Time24. Corporate clients say their productivity has improved because sales personnel can look at their business dossiers while riding trains on their way to a car-sharing station, according to Hayashi.

An estimated 6,477 vehicles were on offer for car-sharing as of January, says the Foundation for Promoting Personal Mobility and Ecological Transportation. The number of drivers using the system has surged tenfold compared with two years ago, to some 167,700.

Orix Auto Corp., which began a car-sharing service on a trial basis in 2002, had served some 57,000 customers as of Sept. 30 and reports a quick increase in their number. The company operates 880 stations and rents out 1,306 vehicles, which come in 13 types.

In 2007, when car-sharing was little known, Orix tied up with a real estate firm and began running its business from the parking lot of a high-rise condominium in Tokyo. The service proved popular, prompting the company to expand to 23 properties, mainly in the greater Tokyo and Osaka areas.

Orix allows people who don't live in the condos where it provides its car-sharing service to sign up.

"We hope to offer various options to customers to spur the growth of our business," said Akira Isogai, an Orix official.

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