A few blocks down the hill from my home in Berkeley, Calif., lives a guy named Ethan Dang. We'd never met before, but for two days he gave me his $45,000 Tesla Model 3 to drive around.
We met up through a car-rental app called Turo. The San Francisco-based company is colloquially known as the Airbnb of car rentals. It works like this: One individual owns a car. Another wants to rent it. Turo puts them together.
In the inelegant language of Silicon Valley, that's known as a peer-to-peer platform. Turo is growing fast -- it says it's more than doubled its inventory over the last two years, to about 400,000 vehicles. And so far it appears to be riding out a consolidation in the app-based alternative car-rental business.
Beyond a couple of hitches with account setup, my Turo experience was smooth. After you create an account on Turo, you go to the website or tap on the app. You pull up a map and see the cars available near you, what days they're available, who the owner is, and how much you'll pay. With a click, Turo charges your credit card. The app puts you in touch with the owner. The two of you take it from there. Turo also operates valet-service lots in the San Francisco and Los Angeles markets where renters can pick up and drop off cars.
My two days with the Model 3 cost me $316.99, broken down this way: the basic, advertised rate of $110 a day, plus $44 for insurance, $10 for an EV-recharge fee, an $11 cleaning fee (an option I chose in order to avoid possible hassles over smudges on the windows) and a $31.99 "trip fee." That last one is apparently Turo's take on the Ticketmaster "convenience" charge, a way to build in profit at the back end while advertising a lower price up front. (Insurance for both owner and renter is handled through Turo by Liberty Mutual.)
Plenty of cars on Turo cost less. Dang also owns a Mini Cooper and rents it out for $53 a day, plus fees. There are Camrys (around $70 a day), Cadillac XTSs ($70) and Escalades ($200), Fiat 500s ($70), Porsches ($150 to $220 a day). Just about any late-year make and model out there is listed, although the inventory leans toward luxury and performance cars.
Turo competes with a company called Getaround, also based in San Francisco, but Turo is the leader and continues to pull ahead in market share. Its 400,000 listings compares with about 60,000 listings claimed by Getaround.
The major operational difference between Turo and Getaround: The latter uses a hardware device to remotely lock and unlock car doors. That makes pickup and drop-off easier because the owner and renter don't need to meet. Hardware installation is an added cost and hassle for owners. But the device doubles as a GPS tracker, which also allows a renter to be tracked for misbehavior.
Turo gained share against Getaround in part because there's no hardware cost and hassle for owners. But that makes it harder to track renters who abuse the cars. (Because Tesla uses over-the-air software, Dang was able to track one of his Model 3 renters hitting 130 miles per hour.)
A Getaround spokeswoman said that Getaround's hardware makes car sharing more accessible. "Getaround is several years ahead of the closest competition in connected car-sharing technology, and uniquely own our hardware and patents," she said.