When car-share co-op Modo started in Vancouver almost two decades ago, its utilitarian members cared so little about automotive esthetics that tacking hubcaps onto their humble grocery-getters seemed overly frivolous.
With that lineage in mind, the co-op's addition this month of a pair of turbocharged Lexus sports sedans and a premium BMW SUV with plush leather interiors, tinted windows and shiny 18-inch alloy wheels marks a major departure.
While the co-op is making the shift into premium autos this month to attract drivers who are uninspired by more mundane models like the Kia Rondo, Pontiac Vibe or Toyota Yaris, its pilot program is also in keeping with a broader industry attempt to expand the appeal of sharing cars.
Selena McLachlan, a director of marketing at Modo, said that while the co-op's value-driven members may be unimpressed by the shift into premium autos, the evolution was good for business and the environment. "I know we can justify it," McLachlan said in a recent interview. "Modo has always stood for diversity and choice and inclusion, and the more variety the better. If we can get more people to share fewer BMWs, I think we're doing a good thing."
The move may also help the local co-op remain competitive with international car-share giant Zipcar. The Avis Budget Group subsidiary has offered premium shared cars in downtown Vancouver for years and those vehicles have become some of the most popular rides in their fleet, said Kate Binette, a Zipcar spokeswoman.
The company, which is also in Austria, France, Spain, Turkey, the U.K. and the U.S., already has 13 premium vehicles in Vancouver and plans to add another 10 in the coming months, including BMW X1s and 328is, and Audi A4s.
"We understand that our members need different cars for different trips, including luxury vehicles for important business meetings, special events, or even when they're just looking for a little extra comfort and style," Binette said.
Modo plans to add two white 2016 Lexus IS 200t F Sports to its downtown lineup on Monday. A white 2016 BMW X1 will be available later this month, timed with the residential move-in date at Telus Garden, which is to be the new home for the premium SUV.
Telus Garden is the fifth Westbank development with a Modo partnership, said Rhiannon Mabberley, a business development manager with Westbank. "We've been huge supporters of ... the car-share movement in Vancouver, long before the City of Vancouver made it a pre-requisite for rezoning," Mabberley said in a recent interview.
"Our thinking is that as carshare use has expanded, the user group has expanded. This is no longer for university students that need to run around and grab some groceries on the weekends. We're seeing more and more of our residential purchasers are really giving up either one or all of their cars," Mabberley said.
Modo's BMW will be accompanied at Telus Garden by a handful of the more common cars in its fleet.
"People want to have their car represent their own lifestyle choices and their own brands and elements that they choose for their own lifestyles, so the BMW makes a lot of sense as user preferences have evolved," Mabberley said.
Unlike one-way car companies like Car2Go and Evo, which offer one type of vehicle apiece (with the exception of Car2Go's handful of Mercedes B-Class MPVs), Modo has an assortment of autos including trucks, vans and sporty cars. It also operates in the suburbs and cities outside Vancouver, where the one-way companies find it hard to turn a profit. But also unlike Car2Go or Evo, Modo requires members to pay a hefty (but refundable) one-time $500 share in the co-op, or a $5 monthly fee in addition to hourly rates.
If the premium autopilot is successful, Modo plans to add more in cities across the Lower Mainland, McLachlan said. The premium cars are priced at an additional $4 an hour, but they are going for the regular rate until May 1.