With BMW’s announcement this week that it is starting a car-sharing venture with Sixt, the industry is getting serious about finding alternatives to traditional car-ownership models.

BMW is the second premium car maker to venture into car sharing. For several years already, competitor Daimler has been developing its car2go scheme, which deploys smart vehicles across cities in Germany and the US.

The two ventures ”“ and the growing number of car-sharing organizations that use volume cars ”“ shouldn’t be seen as an indication that car ownership is on the way out. But they do acknowledge that fewer people may want to own a car in the future and more may be interested in renting a vehicle for occasional use.

Ian Robertson, head of BMW’s sales and marketing, said in a statement there is a growing demand for flexible mobility products in urban areas. The services that will be provided by DriveNow, BMW’s cooperation with Sixt, “are aimed precisely at this gap in the market,” he said.

BMW has another motive, though. It hopes that car-sharing will introduce new customers to its cars, especially its upcoming electric vehicles, which it will sell under the new i brand. DriveNow will also be marketed under this brand.

Sustainability is a big selling point of car sharing projects. Daimler’s car2go in Austin, Texas, promotes its smart cars as “the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid or electric vehicles in the United States and the 3rd most fuel-efficient vehicle” in the country.

A report by researchers Frost & Sullivan last month took a look at the Japanese market and concluded that the market is ripe for car-sharing.

Japan may be a front runner in a trend that is likely to grow across developed countries. Car ownership has declined 30 pc in Japan since 1990, as younger people increasingly prefer other modes of transportation.

One result of this trend is that car sharing has grown rapidly in increasingly congested urban areas. Already, the country has 30 car sharing programs that deploy more than 3,000 vehicles, according to Frost & Sullivan. More than 1 million members will share 23,000 cars by 2016, the researchers project.

They also expect that, by 2016, there will be 10 million car-sharing members in North America, Europe and Japan.

BMW and Sixt are aiming for 1 million DriveNow members by 2020.

-By Arjen Bongard