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Getaround.com: Tesla for the Rest of Us

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Friday January 21st, 2011 | 0 Comments

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It’s a good guess that most Tesla owners are jet-setters. But the Tesla Roadster owned by one anonymous Bay Area man might get around even more than he does. That’s because he’s sharing his $157,000 EV two-seater. With you. Or with whomever would like to drive it (as long as he or she has a clean driving record). All you have to do to get behind the wheel is join Getaround.com, a car-sharing service that was founded in 2009 and launched last month in San Francisco.

The Tesla isn’t typical among most Getaround rigs–which range from late-model Volvos and Subarus to trusty Toyotas. And if you’re looking for a roomy car to haul gear or handle an Ikea spending spree, the Roadster is an unwise choice. But it’s a nice little attention-getter for Getaround.com, which is emerging along with a handful of other, similar personal (aka peer-to-peer, aka neighbor-to-neighbor) car-sharing services in the Bay Area, such as RelayRides and Spride Share.

Aside from having one very special vehicle in its quiver, the startup sets itself apart in a few other ways. For one, it has found a way to get around the need for a dedicated wireless card or key fob that renters must have on hand in order to unlock and start a car. Whereas services such as RelayRides, which started in Boston and recently expanded to San Francisco, require drivers to present an RFID-based membership card (or RFID transit card such as the Charlie Card) to a reader built into the car’s dashboard, drivers can access Getaround cars with just their smartphones.

This could be considered a great convenience or a barrier, depending on whether you own a smartphone, of course. Also, Getaround is striving to leverage the power of social networks, co-founder Jessica Scorpio explained to me. For that reason, all users must log onto the Getaround service through a Facebook account. “We’ve gotten some slack for that,” Scorpio admits. But, for now, at least, no Facebook, no wheels.

Another important element that sets this service apart is its Getaround Carkit. This device plugs into a car’s accessory outlet and communicates with the Getaround reservation system (it can do this via GPRS or via other means, but the patent is still pending on that). Once it verifies the identity of the smartphone-bearing driver, as he or she stands outside the vehicle, the car unlocks. Eventually, the phone will also be able to trigger the ignition, too. But for now, the driver finds the keys inside the glove compartment.

And while it was completely unnecessary in order to write this post, I did, of course, sign up and take the Tesla out for a spin. Saturday traffic on Highway 1 hemmed me in a bit, but I did get a few chances to explore its 0-to-60-in-3.7-seconds acceleration. Best $37.50 (it’s $25/hr, but I needed just a little more) I’ve spent in a long while.

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