Ekar and competitor Udrive both won contracts with Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority to provide a pay per minute car hire service last year
UAE motorists ditch cars in favour of rentals as options increase
Elie Youssef fits the description of Ekar’s average user of the pay-per-minute car service, perfectly.
In his mid-30s, tech savvy, and used to using other sharing economy apps, he is among a demographic who experts say may one day no longer own their own vehicles, thanks to the inexorable rise of car sharing services.
Ekar and competitor Udrive both won contracts with Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority to provide a pay per minute car hire service and initially launched the service with 100 cars each early last year.
Ekar is in the midst of adding another 100 cars to its fleet, which are more high-end than its original Nissan Tiidas.
“For our second tranche of cars we are launching some BMW Minis and some Infinitis. So that’s going to be really exciting to see how the market reacts to that,” said Petter Moen, Ekar’s general manager.
Udrive, which claims to have a market share of around 70 per cent, now has 400. Both have plans to expand in a big way this year.
Ekar aims to have 500 to 600 cars on the road by Ramadan, while Udrive is targeting 1,000 by the end of this year or start of 2019.
And both companies are struggling to keep pace with the demand.
“Right now we have about a 20 per cent increase month-on-month. Our biggest challenge now is to get enough cars on the road,” said Mr Moen.
“A luxury problem, but nevertheless a problem, is we have 100 new customers signing up every day. If they open up the app and they don’t see enough cars on there they say okay fine, I just downloaded the app. Let me try again in a couple of days,” he said.
That is just about acceptable the first time, he said, but they really struggle to keep hold of the potential customers if they cannot find a car the second time, said Mr Moen.
Udrive, for its part — which has had more than 150,000 trips since January 2017 and more than 100,000 hours usage to date — is experiencing growth of 20 to 30 per cent month on month.
“Since the last couple of months, the end of last year, it’s been picking up like crazy,” said Hasib Khan, chief executive and founder.
He said the reason for this is that they are now reaching a tipping point where more people are learning about the service. And as they do, they tell others.
“If you have 25,000 people who know about you, and they each tell five people, you have 125,000 people speaking about you. So this is for me the major thing.
“It’s like a snowball which runs down the hill and gets bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Mr Khan said he thinks car sharing services like his own are the future and has been approached by many who have either sold their cars or are thinking about it.
Mr Youseef — who first used Ekar when his own car was in the garage for a service — has already considered it.
“I think I would if there were more options,” said Mr Youssef, 35, who is British-Lebanese and has lived in the UAE for 13 years.
“As they increase their fleet and locations in the city it would be more feasible to consider giving it up.”
Mr Moen also sees a big future for car sharing.
“We just had a meeting with one of our partners, Volkswagen, where we just discussed this,” he said.
The model has proved very successful in the US and Europe in cities with high density, he said.
“In the short term in Dubai we see a very bright future, but where we see the market going in five years or 10 years is more towards self-driving cars.
“So car sharing 2.0, if you want to call it that. The next step where you share cars but you don’t drive them yourselves.”