Audi to buy luxury car rental startup Silvercar

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Audi has offered to purchase premium US car rental service Silvercar as it seeks to expand its presence in mobility services and apply the start-up’s software expertise to other platforms for car-sharing.

Silvercar, founded in 2012, is an airport car rental service exclusively featuring silver Audi A4 models. The Austin, Texas-headquartered company now operates in 15 US cities.

The two companies declined to give details on the transaction size, but said the deal is expected to close in the first half of this year.

Audi has had a partnership with Silvercar since its founding and last year it purchased a minority stake for $28m in a series C funding round. Other investors have included Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

The purchase follows a long line of investments by car companies in recent years, including GM buying a stake in Lyft, as manufacturers turn to providing services in a market being upended by the prospect of self-driving cars and a proliferation of ride-hailing apps. Analysts at Barclays have predicted that vehicle ownership could decline by 50 per cent before 2040.

Luke Schneider, Silvercar chief executive, said the car market is “on the verge of the most profound changes in the 120-year history of modern personal transportation.”

Moritz Drechsel, an Audi spokesman, said the company has no interest in the rental car business per se, but that Silvercar had developed impressive technology for simplifying the customer experience of sharing vehicles. One programme in particular held Audi’s interest: Dealerware, a digital service of managing dealer fleets.

Audi, a unit of Volkswagen, has already been experimenting with five different car-sharing concepts. These comprise on-demand concierge services (Audi on demand), a small circle of friends ownership model (Audi Unite), a leasing model with access to multiple vehicles (Audi Select), a car-hiring option for business (Audi shared fleet), and a sharing rental programme for select residences (Audi at home).

Unlike luxury rival BMW, which hopes to launch an “Airbnb for cars” service allowing car owners to rent out their own vehicles, all of Audi’s mobility services are based on Audi owning the vehicles it rents out.

“Audi and Silvercar share the same vision,” Dietmar Voggenreiter, Audi boardmember, said in a press release. “We want to open up a new, flexible way to access mobility for our customers while offering premium quality in every respect.”

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