As the sharing economy is booming in China, shared mobility services are radically transforming the dynamics of Chinese cities. This means a fundamental shift for automotive players: “owning” a car is no longer considered the ultimate status symbol in China.[1,2] Consumers get more pragmatic, whereas the urban landscape gets more and more congested and difficult to navigate. The Chinese government supports shared mobility solutions as a way to relax congestion and enforce the large-scale use of electric vehicles. Thus, the opportunity for solution providers is large. Traditional car manufacturers are establishing themselves in this new market by initiating new cooperations and product developments that are adjusted to the new sharing reality.
This article outlines the services, players and pain points that are often discussed in the context of shared mobility. The provided data was collected from Chinese social media and analysed using Anacode’s text analytics technology.[3,4]
The Five Types of Shared Mobility
The landscape of shared services can be segmented into five types, each of them addressing different transportation needs:
– Ride sharing mostly targets urban travellers. It is relatively new in China but was quickly picked up by Didi and integrated into their service range, followed by new players such as DiDa pinche. Didi eventually suspended its ride sharing service in August 2018, thus freeing up the space for a range of smaller competitors.
– Car rental as the traditional mobility service targets long-distance and cross-city travellers. Car rental does not make the headlines when it comes to cutting-edge technology and giant funding rounds, but it is still the go-to alternative for consumers who seek a safe, time-tested mobility solution.
– Bike sharing aims to solve the “last-mile” problem, helping consumers reach the next subway or bus station from their office or home. Bike sharing has seen extensive growth in China for some years. In 2018, however, this segment experienced a slow-down due to an oversupply of bikes and flaws in the payment processes.
– Ride hailing targets a similar demographic as ride sharing and is also widely dominated by Didi. Currently, ride hailing is moving its focus towards lower-tier cities. Benefiting from their knowledge of local specifics, a large number of regional players are already active in the market.
– Car sharing is similar to car rental, with the main difference being the duration: whereas traditional rental is optimized for intervals of multiple hours or even days, shared cars can be used for minutes. This flexibility makes them a welcome alternative for ad-hoc city travellers.
Newcomers and Traditional Car Manufacturers Need to Work Together
Multiple interest groups come together in the shared mobility market: car manufacturers in general are interested in cooperating with service providers and customising their products for the specific requirements of shared vehicles. Besides, the service-oriented transformation pushes the development of new automotive technology: a large number of shared solutions employ NEV fleets. Recently, with Pony.ai launching its fleet of autonomous cars, autonomous driving also enters the stage. Finally, shared mobility is an integral part of the infrastructure transformation in China and is thus generously subsidized by the Chinese government.
Shared Mobility Services – Far From Perfect
Sentiment about shared mobility solutions is generally positive: consumers love the new flexibility. Still, five pain points recur across social discussions, as illustrated in the following chart:
Cleanliness and vehicle condition in general
A friend of mine came to visit me in Shenzhen and I rented the Ponycar for a whole day. It was only 150 yuan! We drove for an entire day without having to recharge the car; we had a really good time! I only wish the car was cleaner!
Shared cars can be parked like this now? My car is blocked. I’ve called the customer service for an hour and no one has come yet to move the car.
What happened @Ibuyongche? Why can I still not withdraw my deposit after two months? Who can solve my problem?
Charging point availability
So many charging points won’t let me charge the EVCARD car! This is really not convenient!
Service location availability
Ponycar is easy to drive, but there are too few parking spots. I need to walk several kilometers to pick up and return the car.
The Dark Side of the Sharing Economy
Peer-to-peer lending, shared mobility, home sharing… whatever the application, it seems that Chinese society is quick to establish the collective trust needed to make sharing models work. But the risk of individual abuse persists. In 2018, two passenger murder cases were recorded related to Didi’s ridesharing service. The brand strengthened its security measures and eventually closed down the service. However, a more recent case dates from December, with a driver being killed by his passenger, and clearly demonstrates that the root of the security problem still persists.
While the shared mobility space has evolved rapidly over the last years, Chinese consumers are also getting aware of the current drawbacks. They are disillusioned by pain points relating to usability, infrastructure and security, which show that the industry is still in major need of improvement. Going forward, it is important to systematically attack these issues. Multiple interest groups need to come together in laying a solid basis and creating the infrastructure for a safe and seamless user experience.
 Wouter Baan, Paul Gao, Arthur Wang, Daniel Zipser (2017). Savvy and sophisticated: Meet China’s evolving car buyers. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/savvy-and-sophisticated-meet-chinas-evolving-car-buyers
 Raymond Tsang, Pierre-Henri Boutot and Dorothy Cai (2018). China’s Mobility Industry Picks Up Speed. Retrieved from https://www.bain.com/insights/chinas-mobility-industry-picks-up-speed/
 Weibo data 2018. Retrieved from https://www.weibo.com
 Anacode GmbH (2018). Anacode MarketMiner: Web-based Text Analytics for International Market Intelligence. Retrieved from http://anacode.de/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Anacode_Technology_Whitepaper_v1.pdf
 Marco Hecker, Quan Zhou, Zoe Wu (2017). The Future of Shared Mobility in China. Retrieved from https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/cn/Documents/about-deloitte/dttp/deloitte-cn-dttp-vol7-ch3-future-of-shared-travel-en.pdf