Ford’s New Private Car-Share Program Reminds Me of My College Days

February 1, 2016Articles Are We There Yet? - Transportation Law Blog

While auto journalists swooned over the latest offerings at the Detroit Auto Show a few weeks ago, Ford had the most interesting launch of the bunch. It unveiled a pilot program called Ford Credit Link offering shared leasing of their vehicles to as many as three people. Ford’s fractional leasing program/private car-share is clearly targeted at college kids, city-dwellers, and even families where the individuals may only need the car for intermittent use but want to spread the costs of ownership amongst people they trust.

The legal implications for a program like this revolve around the potential impracticalities. Think back to your first apartment in college. It was like your own personal season of The Real World. You had three friends, or like me, one friend and two well-groomed strangers you found by posting a flyer around campus (yes, it was pre-Craigslist). You all signed a lease and plopped down the first month’s rent plus a security deposit. Then, the problems began. After a week you realized that the well-groomed strangers were slobs who liked to invite lots of strangers over to the house. Before long, you had a real tragedy of the commons on your hands. Then one of them decided to move to Japan for a semester and needed to get out of the lease. Suddenly, the well-groomed stranger’s problem was your headache.

Ford’s smartest legal move with Credit Link was in making each individual responsible for the lease terms. You’ll find this little disclaimer on the Credit Link info webpage*Each person is fully responsible for all lease terms; however, the Ford Credit Link app helps your group coordinate payments and scheduling.” In other words, if someone decides they want out of the lease, the remaining parties are on the hook. Clever stuff Ford, just like my landlord in New Brunswick. Other, more typical lease issues would also be spread amongst the group. What happens if your well-groomed stranger dings the car or you can’t get the smell of Red Bull and clove cigarettes out of the thing by lease turn-in? Everyone bears the cost.

If you live in Austin, Texas, you’ll have a chance to test the program out yourself as Austin is the lone test market for Ford. This new way of thinking about car ownership offers the car-share experience with those you know and love or at least those you met by posting an ad. The challenges all lie in the allocation of risk which isn’t an issue with carshare programs like Zip-Car or Car2Go, but certainly present pause for thought with Ford’s private program. If the folks in Austin can make it work, Ford will have a hit on its hands and be ahead of the curve in attracting a functional demographic that doesn’t often buy or lease new cars.

And if you really put you’re thinking cap on, you’ll go after Ford’s sportier offerings. So far I’ve got Patrick George and I down for a GT350R. Anybody in as our third?