Sustainable Energy

Is this the Airbnb of the car world?

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Peer-to-peer car sharing has arrived
Peer-to-peer car sharing has arrived

The number of cars on the world's road is rapidly increasing: hitting nearly two billion vehicles in the next 35 years according to the International Energy Agency.

With extra cars come extra emissions. One French company, Ouicar, is looking to transform the way we hire cars with a peer-to-peer car-sharing scheme.

"Ouicar was set up in 2012 on the basis of a simple observation: France's 30 million vehicles, which cost each owner around 6,000 euros ($6,615) per year," Benoit Sineau, chief operating officer of Ouicar, told CNBC's Sustainable Energy. "On the other side, you have people who want to hire, around 10 million per year in France," Sineau added.

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Sineau went on to explain the idea behind Ouicar, describing it as providing, "a platform which allows the owners and potential hirers to make contact."

The business model behind Ouicar is simple: Users sign up online, find a car for hire in their area, and pick it up from the owner, paying an agreed fee.

The benefits to car owners are clear. "For the person renting maybe three times a week, in a month you can gain up to 400 euros, so financially, it's interesting," Alberic Guerin, a car owner, said.

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For Arnaud Escudie, a user of the scheme, one of the advantages of Ouicar was "the direct contact with the owner... There's much more flexibility than a professional car hire firm."

According to the company, Ouicar has 400,000 users and offers more than 20,000 cars.

Backlash in France?

In France, there has been major backlash against many transport-focused start-ups. Uber suspended its ride-sharing service UberPOP in France last week after taxi drivers rioted against the cheap service.

But Ouicar's model is different as users are hiring cars directly from users and driving it themselves rather than sharing a ride for a fee.

Reducing the number of cars on France's roads has been an aim for some time. In 2011, electric car-sharing service Autolib launched, promising a zero noise and 'no direct CO2 emissions'.

While it may make sense to car owners to loan their vehicles in exchange for money, how does this benefit the environment? One argument is that a cost effective car sharing scheme gets more vehicles off the road. The less cars on the road, the less harmful emissions produced.

"The ecological impact of the Ouicar platform is of several kinds," Sineau said, before going on to add that users, "Can rely on a platform like ours to have access to a rental vehicle rather than buying."