Interview: How Turo Is Building A Marketplace For On-Demand Car Sharing
The head of Turo's U.K. team tells PSFK how the platform is poised to fundamentally shift the nature of car ownership, enabling a service it describes as the Airbnb of car-sharing and letting car owners make money on their vehicle's idle time
Taking inspiration from the user experience of a platform like Airbnb, peer-to-peer carsharing app Turo is capitalizing on consumers' changing attitudes towards car ownership and mobility in general. The platform connects car owners with drivers looking to rent a car, avoiding the hassle of the traditional car rentals while enabling owners to maximize the profits of their vehicle.
PSFK spoke to Xavier Collins, head of Turo's U.K. team, for his insight into the future of mobility, how to acclimate consumers to peer-to-peer sharing and why traditional OEMs should be paying attention to the startup space.
PSFK: Could you explain how Turo works?
Xavier Collins: Turo is the world's largest car-sharing marketplace. As a company, our mission is to put the world's one billion cars to better use. What that means is really two things.
The first is for car owners. We're looking to fundamentally change the nature of car ownership. For most people, owning a car is quite a poor investment. Typically, they depreciate very quickly. They sit there idle all the time. People just aren't using them very often. From an economic perspective, we see there's a huge amount of economic value there that we can help unlock for car owners. We're trying to turn a car into something that can actually pay for itself.
From a guest perspective, we're trying to do three things. First, we're trying to provide the best value for money when it comes to accessing a vehicle for a trip. If you look at Turo's marketplace, there's over 850 different makes and models. You can search by filters, like whether it's electric or hybrid, or by color. Second, is giving people access, not only to top‑end luxury cars, but the perfect vehicle for whatever trip they want to go on—it's empowering people through selection.
The third part is convenience, which has been a pain point in the car rental process in the past. We're looking at taking what can be quite a challenging offline experience and bringing it online through connecting people.
There's a lot of work that's gone into making the experience of accessing a car frictionless. Our focus is on building trust within our product and building a community-backed marketplace. Whether it's to pick up some stuff from the shops, drop things at a friend's house, or go on a road trip, we want to create a place where consumers can do that seamlessly from a trusted Turo host.
Could you explain the process for somebody who is going to rent a vehicle? What does that look like?
Our app is quite similar to Airbnb in terms of its look and feel. Customers open up the app and search their local area.
We have two use cases. One is local mobility. Let's say I'm in London right now. I can search the app for cars in London and I then choose the dates that I need the car. Next, a screen will come up with all the different makes and models of cars that are local in my area that I can pick up and access on those dates.
Let's say I'm a big fan of Teslas, for example. I could filter by make and model and find the nearest Tesla to me, or if I really like electric vehicles and I wanted to try something a bit more sustainable, I could search for electric vehicles.
What the app allows me to do is to either search just looking at the vehicle page, or by bringing up the map and then seeing what cars are nearby and their price. Once I've decided, I click that car and go to Book It.
Guests then open up messaging with the owner—the host. Then, after that, we take payment and we connect the owner with the guest. They meet the owner—often in person. They'll walk around the car with the owner, take photos of the car from different angles that they're prompted to take the photo from.
Often the owner will explain if there are any idiosyncrasies with how the car works. An added bonus is that if you're not from the area, an owner can talk about where the best places to go are if you're looking for advice, and then hand the keys over. Then the trip begins.
The end of the trip is similar. The guest would message the owner in terms of selecting a drop‑off location and hand the keys back, take photos of the car, and of the mileage. Once that's all done, the trip is complete.
Do you see Turo's service as a model for the future of vehicle ownership?
I definitely see Turo as being a key player in the future of mobility. There's probably two strands to that. One is that if this continues to grow and work as well as it's been doing to date, we're going to help decrease the amount of car ownership in the world, as well as better utilize the assets that currently exist.
I see car ownership declining, particularly in the cities where we've got a strong footprint. It's part of a macro trend. You've got e-scooters and e‑bikes that are getting a lot of traction at the moment, and they're helping solve that zero‑ to five‑kilometer use case. Obviously there's Uber and Lyft, and other players like that in the 5‑ to 15‑kilometer use case. They're getting more and more efficient over time.
We're moving away from a world where it's one person to one car and they're relying on that car for 80% of their transport needs. Instead, the car's sitting dormant a lot of the time and person is just relying on a mobile phone, and, when they need to get somewhere, plugging into a service.
To the extent that we're going to see the rise of e‑scooter solutions and Uber and Lyft continuing to take more and more market share, it really starts to beg the question, why should I own a car?
If it's only for the 20% of trips that I'm doing, it would make more sense if I could just plug into a platform that gives me access to a car, but more importantly access to different cars that suit that particular use case or trip as and when I need it.
Do you personalize or recommend guests particular vehicles as they search?
It's something we're looking at. We're building up our favorites side of the app right now. If you are a regular user, you could star cars or add cards to your favorites, which helps us learn what our customers like.
Over time, I'd love to see a world where we can be more personalized. We like helping people find the experiences they want. Our goal is to create a marketplace where we provide a great selection. We want to give consumers flexibility, rather than tell them what they should drive, ultimately.
I was talking to someone the other day about how, in fashion, when people are buying clothes in stores, the majority of clothes that are sold are black and gray—very safe, neutral colors. When people are renting off a site like Rent the Runway, a much higher percentage of the clothes that are rented are colorful. It gives people that ability to experiment and express themselves, because they don't have that burden of ownership.
We've noticed legacy companies like Volvo also looking at different forms of mobility and ownership, and their models often still involve encouraging consumers to purchase the car, which departs from what you do at Turo.
You're on the money. This is why it's such an interesting space, because everyone's trying to solve this problem. People are aware that the world is changing. It's about understanding what customers want and what is working.
We can see that there's this trend away from ownership, but who's best placed to solve that problem? A lot of the OEMs, the old car manufacturers will suffer.
Obviously, we were lucky that Daimler was actually an investor in us in our last round. One of the reasons that they invested in us is they saw Turo as a really interesting platform in a way of them being on the cusp of innovation and tapping in to the way that this thing may shake down.
Could you explain how Turo Go works?
To date, the way Turo's scaled and grown is we've had a local mobility use case, and then a very strong travel use case. We've grown around this notion of being a very aspirational brand and giving people great experiences.
There's this huge segment, particularly in places like London, where people need access to cars not only for the experience, but also as a commodity—as a solution for getting around. Turo Go is the answer to that need.
We're looking to build a best-in-class hardware/software solution, an automatic entry into cars. We've already launched a pilot of Turo Go in LA, where we're seeing a really promising adoption. Basically, it's a piece of hardware that sits in the car that an owner or a host can elect to install. It will allow a guest to unlock that car through the Turo app.
We'll have keyless start. We'll be able to also measure things like telematics, and help people with their driving safety. We'll be able to measure things like mileage, the amount of gas left in the tank. All that will feed through the app. To the extent that we're going to hopefully service that use case of wanting access to a car, we're going to make that experience frictionless.
When ride-share services like Lyft and Uber first started, there were consumer confidence concerns—particularly with safety. How do you build trust among your community of guests and hosts as well?
I remember I was one of the early people at Uber Sydney in Australia, right about the time that we launched UberX. I remember thinking, “This is crazy. Having anyone drive you in their car?”
When you first raise the idea with some people, there's always a hesitation around letting someone else drive your car. We've now reached over 350,000 cars listed on the platform. You don't get to that stage without people starting to realize, like “Oh, this is something that makes sense.” The first thing we're trying to do is prove that the economics of Turo make sense for an owner.
If you're not using your car that often, you could be paying off your car's lease payments by sharing it seven days a month. That's the first principle. The second is that we want to make sure that it's risk‑free. Trust and safety is the heart of what we do. In each market we operate, we work closely with a lead insurer. In the U.K., it's Allianz. In the U.S., it's Liberty Mutual. We want to ensure that, if you're an owner of a car and your car's rented out on our platform, shared out on our platform, you're covered if anything happens.
Equally, if you're a guest, Turo's insurance option is there to make sure that, in the event something does go wrong, there's no risk for the owner and there's no risk for the guest.
Lastly, it's about building trust and transparency in the marketplace itself. We try to adopt a similar model to Airbnb in terms of two‑way reviews. Owners can review guests who have driven their car and returned it safely. Guests can leave feedback about what their experience was like, how well the communication was, how good the car was, etc. It's by building a community that we have overcome that initial hesitation.
Finally, what's in store for the future of Turo?
Turo's got global ambitions. I think this really could be one of the major players in the mobility space. We've launched in the U.K. in September 2018. I'd want to be the household name and biggest player when it comes to car sharing in the U.K. We're very close to achieving that. We're in Canada and Germany as well.
We've got Scotland launching in a few weeks' time. We're looking at Ireland. Over the coming years, I really want to see us become a global player.
Then secondly, I want to make sure that we continue to drive an amazing experience. The key to this business working and doing well is ensuring that people are getting five‑star experiences. When they're looking to access a car, that means it's reliable, it's easy to use and it's a good price.
If we can be the leaders of that, it might create this world where car-sharing is far more accessible to more people and just makes economic sense. I'll see that as a massive success.
Turo is pioneering the next generation of car experiences by building a community-backed marketplace that offer flexibility and convenience. For more from similar innovative services, see PSFK's reports and newsletters.