In 2016, General Motors launched its car-sharing service Maven, a Zipcar competitor that highlights an important
transition brewing in Detroit.
Automakers are under increasing pressure from Silicon Valley to come up with mobility services that appeal to modern urban dwellers. As millennials opt to live in big cities, their willingness to shell out for a car has fallen by the wayside. Traditional car companies are now tasked with appealing to millennials who aren't in a hurry to purchase a vehicle, but are already tethered to ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber.
A car-sharing service opens up a key opportunity for big automakers to compete in the crowded mobility space. It provides new revenue streams in cities while also exposing millennials to cars they may be interested in buying later in life.
GM launched Maven with millennials in mind. Of the 75,858 people using Maven, 80% are between the ages of 18 and 34. The average user is 30-year-olds, so it skews a bit closer to Generation X.
GM is far from the only company to launch a Zipcar competitor; Ford has launched GoDrive and BMW operates Reachnow.
As a millennial living in New York City, I decided to test the service to see how it stacks up and see if I could be swayed to become a regular user. Here's my verdict:
Maven is a free app you can download on iOS or Android devices. Unlike Zipcar, there's no option to use it as a subscription service. You simply pay an hourly rate per trip, which will vary based on what kind of car you reserve.
If you open the app with Location Services turned on, Maven will automatically show you where you are in relation to its garages. In New York City, there are 24 parking garages scattered throughout Manhattan and two in Brooklyn.
Those numbers indicate how many cars are in that particular garage.
Maven launched in Brooklyn in late September, but plans to continue adding garages to the borough. Right now, the two garages are in Williamsburg.
I found the interface to be a bit confusing at first. I kept pressing the garages to see which vehicle options were inside. Instead, you have to select the "list" button, which I've highlighted below, to see everything.
The list will show you the garages that are closest to you on the app so you can choose a car based on proximity. Maven offers a lot of different vehicles from the GM line-up.
The price will vary based on the vehicle you choose. A 2017 Chevrolet Malibu, which I selected, went for $15 an hour or $150 a day. A 2016 Cadillac Escalade, however, will cost $23 an hour or $260 per day.
The service seems slightly more expensive than Zipcar. The lowest prices I saw on Maven were a $10 hourly rate and $99 daily rate, though a $120 daily rate was more common. Zipcar starts at $9.25 per hour and $89 per day in the New York and New Jersey area.
Zipcar comes with the option to purchase a monthly or yearly subscription, but it also has an "occasional driving" plan with no monthly commitment. So you could simply download both and compare prices when planning your trip.
That being said, it's hard to make a real call on what is most cost effective as GM cars come with 4G LTE connectivity. Users may be willing to shell out a few dollars more per hour for that perk. It really depends what you're going for when planning a day trip.
Once you select a car, it will prompt you to enter what days you want to reserve it for before showing the final cost. Even if you initially searched for a car for a specific weekend, the app will automatically enter that you want to book the car "today." So be careful when making your reservation to ensure you book the car for the correct amount of time.
Overall, the app could benefit from some slight upgrades. I didn't like that I had to view the cars in a list form instead of just selecting a single garage. I also wish it would remember my searches: if I say I want the car for next weekend, I shouldn't have to reenter that when I'm actually reserving the vehicle.
The app was also a bit slow at times. I often had to wait for the map to reload when adjusting the parameters of my search.
It's a fully functional app that gets the job done, but it's not a remarkably smooth user experience.
All of that being said, I successfully booked a Chevrolet Malibu at a garage that was only a few blocks from my apartment. I like that the app gave me detailed directions to the garage. It even included that it was next to a cleaners service.
I had no issue picking up the car. I simply showed my reservation to the attendant and he pulled up with the exact Malibu that was shown in my app.
Although I was given a key fob, I could also use the app to unlock the car by connecting via Bluetooth. I prefer to just keep the fob in my purse, but the app functioned perfectly fine.
The Malibu came with a full tank of gas, but Maven provided me with a fuel card so I could fill the tank up. If you forget to use the fuel card, you can actually expense the cost of gas by sending Maven an itemized receipt.
There was even a USB cord left in the Malibu so I could charge my phone and connect to Apple CarPlay.
I reserved the car for an entire Saturday and part of Sunday. My mission was to use it for a day trip to upstate New York to go apple picking, despite the fact that it was 80 degrees and hardly felt like the autumn trip I had planned.
The Malibu felt like a good choice because it wasn't terribly expensive, but also wasn't the cheapest car available (that would be the Cruze). I wanted to get a sense of what it would be like to use the app to rent a slightly more luxurious car than a Honda Civic, which is a typical rental car.
One of my favorite things about driving GM cars is that the infotainment system is very straightforward and easy to use. I easily connected to WiFi and then used Apple CarPlay to navigate the hilly route to upstate New York.
It also came with Sirius XM radio. We jammed out to the '90s channel for the entire trip.
The Malibu came with an E-Zpass, so I didn't have to pay for tolls! Keep in mind that may not be the case with every car. Maven says it tries to put toll transponders in each car, but some won't come with them.
Once you book the car, the service is very straightforward. There are very few things you can't do with a Maven vehicle. You can't drive it out of the country to Canada or Mexico. There's also a per-mile fee of 42 cents if you drive more than 180 miles.
But that's about it for "hidden" rules. The Malibu I reserved had almost a full tank of gas and was in great condition. It felt like a new car; I didn't get the impression that someone else had driven the vehicle before me.
Our drive to Wilkow Orchard was peaceful. The car had no issues throughout the three-hour roundtrip. The brake was a bit sensitive for my taste, but I had no qualms with my Malibu selection.
The main thing to keep in mind when using Maven is that you can only select vehicles that fall under the GM umbrella. I actually like that aspect of the app because GM cars tend to feel a bit newer and more high-tech. It came with 4G LTE connectivity, Apple CarPlay, and multiple USB ports. These are small additions but they add up when driving for long periods of time.
We made it! We successfully parked the car in a dirt parking lot and enjoyed a few hours upstate. It was really nice to escape the city so easily and go to a place that isn't easily accessible by train. There was plenty of room in the trunk to fit our bounty, which included Apple Cider and freshly picked apples.
I was happy with how long I had chosen to reserve the vehicle, but it's very easy to extend the reservation in the app itself. That option won't be available in the app if someone has already booked the car for later that day.
Once I returned the Malibu, I had to select "End Trip" in the app to ensure I wasn't overcharged. I handed over the key fob and walked the few blocks back to my apartment, determined to make an Apple Crumble.
Once you end the trip, Maven will prompt you to fill out a very short service asking how the experience went. I didn't have any issues, but it's nice to know it's easy to submit feedback.
Overall, the entire service is very seamless. The app is straightforward, even if it has a few sore spots, and there's plenty of garage options to make it convenient. Maven's connection to GM is a perk in and of itself because you can choose more luxurious vehicle options and take advantage of free WiFi.
Whether or not the service is right for you really depends on your circumstance.
Zipcar has more garage options, so it may be a better fit for someone looking to get a car outside of Manhattan. Zipcar also seems a bit cheaper, though some of the cars won't have the same high-tech perks as Maven vehicles.
If the price is alright with you, the Maven experience is great. It's easy and convenient and lets you escape the city for a few hours without any real hassle.
An obvious difference between Zipcar and Maven is that with the former you're not stuck only choosing vehicles that fall under the GM brand. That may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on whether you prioritize price or general comfort.
If you want to escape the city, it's worth giving Maven a shot, and the price is certainly fair enough for a day.