Car-sharing and subscription businesses are becoming increasingly popular amid economic uncertainty and decreasing transport options.
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Australian car-sharing and car-subscription services have seen an influx of new customers amid the coronavirus crisis, with some reporting a concerning trend they're calling 'car hoarding'.

Car Next Door, a nationwide peer-to-peer car sharing platform, coined the phrase after it witnessed the number of its "long-term" bookings double over the past week and a half, resulting in limited availability for some of its customers.

Technically speaking, 'car hoarding' involves existing or new customers extending loan periods so they have cars 'just in case' they're required down the line, potentially limiting availability for other customers in the short-term.

"About 20 per cent of our fleet is booked out on a long-term booking at the moment, which is pretty high compared to normal," Will Davies, CEO and co-founder of Car Next Door, told CarAdvice.

"Typically a massive chunk of our bookings are a few hours to a day, now we're looking at bookings of multiple weeks."

A survey of 400 Car Next Door users found 75 per cent of them were regular public transport users, with most of that number reporting they were using public transport less due to "safety reasons".

“Now, more than ever, people need access to cars to do essential errands like buying food and supplies. Many who live in the big urban centres don’t own a car and are avoiding public transport due to contamination fears,” Mr Davies said.

“We just want to make sure cars are there for when people need them – so just book them for the time you need it," he said, adding that the company was still devising a solution to combat any supply issues.

Chris Noone, CEO of car subscription and rental service Carly, said it too had recorded a number of customers extending their bookings.

"What we’re seeing is there’s volatility, but many people are extending their bookings because they’re essential workers, they still need a car. There are some people who are already on a fixed term subscription for 90 days who are coming through and extending again," Mr Noone explained.

Additionally, he said, Carly's number of live subscriptions increased by 12 per cent compared to the 12-week average over the week ending March 22, 2020 – the same week in which Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the first round of social distancing measures to combat the spread of the virus.

George Skentzos, head of marketing for HelloCars and Blinker, told CarAdvice Blinker "had received more enquiries in March alone than from the preceding three months combined", while HelloCars had seen "a significant increase in the number of customers looking to sell their existing cars and subscribe".

"The feedback suggests that these customers are looking to improve their cash flow position by selling their vehicle, but still have an ongoing need for a car so are looking to subscribe as an immediate solution," Mr Skentzos explained.

However, unlike Car Next Door, rival car share services Carly, Blinker and HelloCars did not report supply issues as a result of the increased loan periods and influx of new customers.

Meanwhile, one car subscription service wholly unaffected by 'car hoarding' so far is GoGet, which cited its different business model as a protection against the practice.

“We are not seeing car hoarding, but if it was to happen, because we own and closely manage our fleet, we are able to tailor the supply of our vehicles to demand," Jonathan Englert, Head of Communications for GoGet, told CarAdvice.

Another car-sharing service unconcerned by car hoarding was Popcar, which announced it would be waiving membership fees for all existing, new and business customers and reducing new sign-ups to a $1 fee.

"One of the serious implications [of CVODI-19] for many people will be the impact on their ability to get around, as confidence in public transport diminishes due to strengthening of the Government’s social distancing measures and concerns about contagion," Anthony Welsh, Director of Popcar, said.

“We have hundreds of cars available for private usage for both individuals and businesses and can offer a solution for our communities but wanted to ensure the uncertain financial outlook for many people at this time was also taken into account.”