Getting Wheels When You Need Them for Your Gig

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Wheels When You Need Them for Your Gig

For many people working in what has been dubbed the “on-demand” or “gig” economy, having flexible access to a car — especially for rideshare or drivers who deliver food and other items — can be essential to their livelihood. And as more Americans work a mix of jobs, the auto industry is rising to meet the demand for new services.

New ways to get wheels

One of the recent entries is a rental service from General Motors called Maven Gig, which is available in San Diego and San Francisco. The tagline promises: “Our car. Your hustle.”

The cars Maven Gig offers, on a weekly or monthly basis, start at $179 a week, which includes insurance. The Chevrolet Bolt EV, starting at $229 a week, also comes with free charging.

Unlike some services that offer cars to rideshare drivers, such as Express Drive from Lyft, Maven Gig allows people who rent the cars to work for multiple companies and it has partnered with delivery, shopping and to-go food sites.

At Maven Gig and other car rental companies, even people who don’t own a car can pick up gigs that require a vehicle. Then, when the work is done, drivers simply return the car, which means they don’t have to pay for it as it sits at the curb.

‘Alternative ownership’

As the gig economy grows, car-providing companies are streamlining the process to meet changing needs and competition.

ZipCar and Enterprise CarShare, for example, offer hourly and daily rentals. Turo, HyreCar and Getaround allow owners to rent their cars to others. And Maven Gig is the latest addition to Maven’s suite of rental services, which include hourly and daily rentals and car-sharing services in some residential communities.

These options reflect the trend of making cars available for what’s called “alternative ownership” — low-cost and easy access to wheels when you need them.

“This is not new behavior from the automakers,” says Eric Noble, professor of vehicle technology at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. Noble, also founder of The CARLAB, an automotive consulting firm, adds that “alternative ownership is something that all the automakers — whether they like it or not — are studying or beta testing.”

Noble says that automakers, in a lot of ways, are agnostic about who buys their vehicles. “They want to make cars in high volumes, and if Uber wants to buy them, it’s fine with them. What they really want is a plant operating on two shifts,” he says.

Flexible ownership for flexible work

Though it’s difficult to quantify the gig workforce, a recent Pew Research Center survey estimated that nearly a quarter of Americans earn some money in what it called the “platform economy.”

A recent study by Earnest, an online lender, found that 85% of people who earned money on side-gig platforms made under $500 a month, while Uber and Lyft drivers made an average of about $370 a month. In another estimate, on-demand drivers renting through HyreCar, which lets car owners rent their vehicles to drivers for Lyft, Uber, Instacart and others, made $1,000 a week, on average, after rental fees.

At about $200 a week, renting a car from a service like Maven Gig isn’t cheap. But it’s less expensive in the short-term and less of a commitment than buying a different car, especially if your current vehicle doesn’t meet the requirements set by rideshare and other companies.

While renting a car might not be sustainable in the long run, it could be helpful for drivers in certain cases, according to Harry Campbell, a former rideshare driver who turned his blog, The Rideshare Guy, into a full-time job to help drivers working for rideshare companies.

For example, if you’re new to rideshare driving, a car rental service offers a way to test it out. And, if don’t own a car, but you’re looking for some extra income this summer, you won’t have to buy or lease a car to get started.

Rideshare drivers value flexibility — being able to work whenever they like, Campbell says.

“The downside is you are responsible for the hidden things: the health benefits, workers’ comp, the gas, the insurance,” Campbell says of the costs drivers face. “Some of the safety nets aren’t in place.”

This is true for many gig workers, not only rideshare drivers. And as the gig economy changes the way many Americans make money — and approach vehicle ownership — it also opens new opportunities for carmakers.

“The word gig is in there, not career,” Noble says. “Everything is less certain now. A truly modern lifestyle is a fluid lifestyle. And the automaker will adapt to that.”

Philip Reed is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: preed@nerdwallet.com.