Peer-to-Peer Carsharing Goes National With RelayRides’ Big Launch

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Starting today, carsharing startup RelayRides is getting the chance to prove its model on a national scale. The company launched in Boston and expanded to San Francisco, but rather than continuing a gradual roll out from city to city, RelayRides is making the service available everywhere in the United States.

Companies like RelayRides and TechCrunch Disrupt winner Getaround offer a different take on carsharing than the one established by Zipcar and its competitors. While those companies own fleets of cars, RelayRides is entirely peer-to-peer — if you have a car, then you can make it available for rental when you’re not using it. RelayRides says the average car owner makes $250 a month from the program.

Since it takes advantage of the cars already on the road, founder and chief community officer Shelby Clark argues that peer-to-peer carsharing can have a big impact — after all, a fleet-based company couldn’t simply declare one day that it’s launching nationally.

That’s especially true in non-urban areas. For example, Zipcar doesn’t have any cars available in the Los Angeles suburb where I grew up, and it’s hard to imagine that establishing a fleet there would make economic sense anytime soon. Starting today, however, anyone there can make their car available for others to rent. Eventually, Clark says he’s hoping this will encourage people to “round down” on car ownership — so if you’re trying to decide whether your family needs two cars or three, you’ll go with two, because you can easily rent an extra car when you need it.

I’m guessing there will be some hiccups in the national launch, as hopeful drivers sign-up in locations where there are no cars available, or vice versa. Still, Clark says there’s already lots of interest, and that RelayRides has received thousands of requests for expansion.

“I think it’s just really exciting to say yes instead of say no,” he says. “It’s a big country, and I’m excited to get out of Boston and San Francisco.”

Previously, car owners had to install a RelayRides device that allowed renters to unlock the vehicles at the pointed time. For the national launch, Clark says the company is phasing this system out, and instead relying on something a little more straightforward — the car owner hands their keys to the renter. That has the added benefit of allowing the owner to actually meet the person who’s going to be borrowing their car. RelayRides has also announced a partnership with General Motors to use built-in OnStar devices to unlock and start cars, but that hasn’t gone live yet.

RelayRides’ investors include Google Ventures, August Capital, Shasta Ventures, and GM Ventures.

And in case you’re wondering, Clark has made his own car available through RelayRides. You can see him with his Mini above. In fact, it turns out that he and I are neighbors, so as soon as I sign up, I’m hoping to take it for a spin.