Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not April Fools: a car from IKEA?

For those of you who do not speak French, IKEA France and WWF France had announced some kind of car deal that would be better for the environment. Rumor had it that this was basically car-sharing and possibly with electric cars. It would have been quite a feat indeed had IKEA managed to come up with an electric car that could be recharged at any of its stores and rented on some sort of membership basis.

But yesterday, just in time for the deal not to be confused with an April fools joke, IKEA took this site live. Some will, no doubt, be disappointed because IKEA intentionally made this out to be the presentation of a new car called Leko. After lifting the curtain, the French presenter says:

"You don't see anything? But it is there: the Leko. It is the car you already have -- or the car you do not have. The concept is much bigger than a simple automotive concept."

The site is a platform for carpooling to IKEA stores. (I wonder where you will put your new Billy shelf once the back seat is full of strangers.) While car-pooling is great, car-sharing is an even better idea. It would be great if we could cut the number of cars in our towns in half by sharing them (statistically, your average car sits around 95 percent of the time), and it is also great when you can simply walk outside and take exactly the car you need (a van for large groups or transport, a small car for efficiency). There really are no drawbacks to car-sharing -- or at least there would not be if it were implemented on a grand scale.

One of the main obstacles in German car-sharing programs is that you cannot join with your own car, so everyone who already has a car and would like to join faces the same membership fees and usage fees as those who join without a car. Your only option is to sell your car.

IKEA's new car-pooling proposal is not a new idea in France, and Germany has long had Mitfahrzentralen. Before the days of the Internet, students would post their messages on a central bulletin board somewhere at the university, and everything was done informally. Later, offices opened up where you could call in your request for a small fee (roughly a few dollars), and you would share gas costs with the other people.

Too bad IKEA's new idea is an old one. It would have been interesting if their platform had included the option of contributing your vehicle in a car-sharing scheme. Incidentally, in Germany and the US, Mercedes is now testing a kind of car-sharing with only Smart cars. Maybe one day they will include vans and 5-seaters...

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