Delhi's Rakesh Joshi often hires a Fortuner for his weekend trips to the nearby hills. He owns a Ford Ecosport, yet he prefers to rent cars for such trips from self-drive rental service companies. Joshi is not alone - many young professionals and entrepreneurs are opening up to the idea of hiring a self-drive car (not to be confused with cars that drive themselves, which are also called autonomous cars). The reasons are not hard to find. An increasing number of high-end cars and SUVs are launching in India, but not everyone can buy them. You might own a small car, but may want to drive a bigger, fancier one on a holiday trip. Self-driven cars allow this luxury. Some companies even offer 24x7 road-side assistance, making the experience less stressful.
Popular in countries such as the US and Europe, the self-driving cars industry isn't really that new in India. Having existed for some time now, it is only during the past couple of years that the segment has begun to see a lot of action, with many existing players ramping up and new ones driving in. "Self-drive cars as a concept is gaining popularity amongst holiday travellers," says Anupam Agarwal, Co-founder & CEO of Revv, a start-up in this space. "They prefer to opt for a self-drive car because when they hire a taxi, they end up blocking a seat as well as paying additional money for the driver."
The spurt in demand for such vehicles is coming from the young and middle-aged groups (20 to 40-year-olds). Apart from the aspiration of going on a holiday in a great car, people also hire such cars for commuting within the city, as an impromptu second car for housewives, for example. College students who can't buy a car often opt for this service as they get to drive their dream car at an affordable cost. It also gives one the option to really test a car before taking a buying decision.
Zoomcar, founded in 2013, has over 1,800 cars across Bangalore, Pune, Delhi-NCR, Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad. It claims to offer a wide selection of vehicles under Zoom Lite, Zoom Regular and Zoom Xtra categories where users can choose the pricing on the basis of short duration and long duration travel. "Our service is popular amongst students, young professionals, housewives and holiday travellers," says Greg Moran, CEO and Co-founder of Zoomcar. "Customers can book our cars from the app on hourly, daily, weekly and monthly basis."
Myles, the self-driving service from Carzonrent, attempts to fulfil the need for a second car in your home. It provides cars for executives going to office or while going to a meeting, or for housewives who step out in the afternoon to go grocery shopping and pick kids up from school, or even for people whose cars are at the service centre for repairs for a few days. Starting with 14 cars about two years ago, Myles today has 1,400 cars in its fleet across multiple cities. It has even set up location points in every area allowing a user to walk to the car, unlock the car from the app and get the keys within the car. "You can pick the car from one location and drop it at another," says Sakshi Vij, Founder & CEO, Myles. "For instance, you can pick the car near your house and drop it at the airport."
While most companies are attempting to cash in on almost every segment including hatchback, sedan, SUV and luxury, Eco Rent a Car focuses only on luxury cars. It has in its ranks Mercedes E-Class, S-Class, BMW 3 Series, 7 Series and Chrysler Limousine. A Mercedes E-Class can be hired for rent of Rs 12,000 for a day or for Rs 4,000 for four hours or 40 km.
And if you're worried about driving a commercial vehicle with a regular driving licence, well, don't fret. These cars are registered as self-drive vehicles, so you don't require a special driving licence. While travelling outstation, one has to stop at the first RTO check post to get the visitor permit for the state.
There's a fair bit of technology at work in these services. Technology in these cars allows the companies to track them 24x7. They can immobilise the car if it is entering into a restricted area. For instance, the taxi unions in Ladakh and Gulmarg in Kashmir do not permit non-local vehicles from plying to certain destinations. The vendor gets a notification if you take the car in such areas. The speed of the cars is also tracked. In case of an accident, using the data accumulated at the back-end, vendors can figure out the cause of the accident - if the driver is at fault by rash driving, over speeding, etc.
At the front-end, you can book a car either through the company's website or its app. You can upload the scanned copy of your identity proof and driving licence, which is verified at the back-end, and pay the refundable security deposit - Rs 5,000 in most cases; can go up to Rs 50,000 in case of luxury cars - through net banking, credit card or debit card. The security amount is refunded within five to seven working days in your account, once the car is returned.
So, the next time you want to go driving in a fancy car on a holiday, just hire it.