ReachNow expands BMW car sharing to Portland

After launching in Seattle in April, BMW’s car sharing service ReachNow is expanding down the I-5 corridor to Portland, Oregon. In Seattle, more than 13,000 people signed up in the first month, and ReachNow was able to add 150 vehicles and expand its service area by late June. It’s likely the Portland expansion will follow the same plan, with a fleet of vehicles in the city center and expansion to farther-flung neighborhoods as demand increases.

Portland is no stranger to car sharing. Daimler’s car2go has been operating its fleet of smart fortwos (some of which are plug-in electric vehicles) here since March 2012. And Zipcar has been offering a wide variety of vehicles in Portland, from hatchbacks to pickup trucks, under various names since 1998. ReachNow has more kinds of cars than car2go but fewer than Zipcar, and they’re all from the BMW family: BMW 3 series, BMW i3 PHEVs and several┬áMini Cooper models.

Currently, car2go has a membership of 45,000 in Portland and a fleet of 465 vehicles. In a phone interview, Portland’s car2go general manager Ken Hills said, “Portland is a great city for car share. There’s good density, and it’s a tech-savvy town with early adopters who are really receptive.” As for adding another service to the mix in a city of 630,000 residents, Hills said, “Having a competitor will also increase awareness and options. Flexibility is a good thing, and the more awareness, the better.”

Portland is the second official city ReachNow will serve, but the pilot project in the United States was in the San Francisco area. (The service is known as DriveNow in Europe). In a phone conversation earlier this summer, ReachNow CEO Steve Banfield noted that San Francisco does not support free-floating car sharing, like ReachNow and car2go, where users can pick up a nearby car and drop it off wherever they like, as long as it’s in the service area. San Francisco does support station-based car sharing, like Zipcar, where you pick up and drop off vehicles at fixed locations. This, plus the challenge of just parking in San Francisco, made Seattle — and now Portland — a better fit for ReachNow.

In a more recent phone interview after the Portland announcement, Banfield noted that Portland’s city government is supportive of car sharing, having already welcomed car2go and Zipcar. And with a population already aware of car sharing, Portland “ticks a lot of boxes in its own right,” he said.

Banfield pointed out that car sharing is only the tip of ReachNow’s service iceberg. “We said in April that we would expand service and features as well as expand across North America.” And we can expect to see some of those new services later this fall, according to Banfield. “We’re telegraphing every punch we’re taking,” he said. “We’re trying to move really, really fast.”

There’s no official word on when Portlanders will be able to actually use ReachNow, though it seemed from our conversation like it would happen within a matter of weeks, not months. In the meantime, Portlanders (and everyone else in the country) can sign up in advance of ReachNow reaching their city for free.