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Sharing economy changes how customers buy and own cars

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A few decades ago, if you wanted to buy a car, you either worked out a deal with a friend selling his or hers or you took a ride to the dealership and started negotiation about the sticker price. However, the sharing economy, accelerated by services like Uber and AirBnB, is quickly changing the way business is done, and dealerships need to keep up with the changes as best they can.

In fact, whether younger consumers are more comfortable buying cars entirely online or engaging in flexible ownership contracts that might appear foreign to car-buyers of the past, modern dealerships need to adapt to their practices. If they fail, it's not only their online reputations that will suffer, but their bottom lines as well.

The day of the two-car garage actually filled with two vehicles is dead and gone.The day of the two-car garage actually filled with two vehicles is dead and gone.

Buy it, rent it, drive it, share it
Zipcar was perhaps one of the first major automobile companies that threw their hats into the sharing-economy ring, and co-founder and chief executive officer Robin Chase admitted that this new semi-capitalist environment is changing more than what might be readily apparent.

"We're in this full on, very fast paced transition from what I think of as the old form of capitalism, which is how we used to make the most value by holding things close, owning the cars, owning the patents, keeping all the knowledge inside," Chase told The Street. "And now because the Internet does exist and people and things and ideas are quickly identified and connected, there's always more value outside the company."

One need not only look at Zipcar as a form of how the sharing economy has changed how younger shoppers buy vehicles. In Southern California, Shift, an on-demand car buying and selling service, has convinced thousands of users to skip the outdated method of driving on Los Angeles' clogged freeways to dealerships where they might not get what they want, the Los Angeles Times reported. Instead, Shift employs a team of contractors to meet buyers and sellers wherever they happen to be and to drive the saleable cars to and from wherever they might be needed.

"Ford announced that it was launching a flexible ownership program in six US cities."

Get with the times
Of course, it's easy to point to emerging startups as blips on the larger radar of the automobile industry, but when a pillar of the community like Ford begins to change its practices to cater to shoppers of the sharing economy, it's hard not to pay attention.

Ford announced June 24 that it was launching a flexible ownership program in six U.S. cities that would allow preexisting Ford vehicle drivers to rent their cars out to vetted drivers, the Christian Science Monitor reported. Starting in November, California drivers in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, as well as those in Portland, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., are eligible to participate in this pilot program.

With startups and members of the Big Six making moves to cater to the sharing economy, it's hard to imagine a clearer indication that business as usual in the car-buying industry is anything but.