March 17, 2023

How car sharing APIs create a seamless rental experience

Winona Rajamohan

Content Marketing Manager

Vehicle inventory levels in the US were at their lowest in 2021 since the Global Financial Crisis. This has unsurprisingly pushed rental prices to record highs. Last summer, average car rental prices were 60% higher than pre-pandemic levels — that’s $99 a day.

The potential for peer-to-peer car sharing is immense because it allows commuters to rent vehicles from hosts without having to rely on rental fleets. With car sharing APIs, businesses can empower vehicle hosts and renters with more convenient, reliable, and affordable options.

Mobility businesses and automakers have been eager to dip their toes into the car-sharing market as the cost of vehicle ownership has soared. But many have failed to execute these ventures successfully.

User experience and software stability play a major role in attracting and retaining users. In 2018, Bloomberg surfaced reviews for car sharing apps by automakers that highlighted buggy apps, poor vehicle maintenance, and vehicles that don’t unlock when renters arrive to pick them up. Many of the apps featured in the article are no longer in operation.

But the market, its technology, and its players have evolved.

Car sharing revenue growth in the United States has grown by 51% from 2021 to 2022. Venkatesh Gopal, principal at Movmi, sat down with Smartcar to talk about the future of sustainable mobility and shared that this upward trend has a lot to do with availability and convenience.

“Car sharing today looks a lot like this: I sit in my home, I'm scanning through an app to see what car is available and what my options are. Do I want station-based? Do I want free floating?” he says. “I can then make a reservation at my convenience.

Let’s explore how successful businesses use car sharing APIs to provide commuters with high levels of digitization, convenience, and reliability without investing in hardware.

What car sharing APIs does your app need?

🔑 5 types of car sharing APIs you can use your app

  1. Lock and unlock API
  2. Location API
  3. EV battery API
  4. Fuel tank API
  5. Odometer API

Lock and unlock API

A lock and unlock API (or digital car key API) lets app users remotely lock and unlock their cars directly from a mobile app on their phones. The API also allows vehicle owners to share their car keys with others via the same mobile app. Jump to the next section of this blog for an example of how apps like Turo and Nabobil use digital car keys.

Here's what an unlock request on Smartcar looks like using Node.js:

“Smartcar presented the best opportunity to streamline our development effort and accelerate time-to-market by unlocking access to millions of cars. We loved the idea of a single set of APIs and a unified integration that would give our customers access to a huge variety of vehicles.”

— Elizabeth Nunley, Principal Product Manager at Turo | Read this case study 👉

Location API

Apps use a location API to give car sharing hosts and renters visibility into a vehicle’s last known location. When paired with the digital car key API, individuals can pick up a vehicle at a location that’s most convenient for them. Car sharing hosts can also confidently enroll their vehicles for contactless rentals because they can track their vehicles and minimize risk of theft.

Odometer API

Similar to the fuel tank check, car sharing applications automatically verify the vehicle’s odometer at the start and end of each car rental. When the driven mileage exceeds what renters paid for, the business automatically charges them and pays the difference to the vehicle owner.

EV battery API

With EV APIs, renters can use your app to check an EV’s battery level or capacity before selecting a vehicle for their trip. Accurate battery data can also help you increase supply and demand. For example, renters can have visibility into EVs that aren’t fully charged but still has enough range for shorter trips.

Having this data easily accessible also simplifies the process for vehicle hosts to invoice renters for EV charging costs. Instead of having to upload photos of EV battery levels, you can set up an automated flow that triggers invoice requests to be made for a trip when the battery falls below a specified level.

Fuel tank API

Using Smartcar’s technology, car sharing applications automatically verify a vehicle’s gas tank level at the end of each rental period. When the tank is only half full, car sharing companies immediately reimburse the owner and charge the renter a convenience fee. Vehicle owners don’t need to worry about sitting inside their vehicles, checking the fuel gauge, manually reporting issues, or waiting for payment approval.

Why integrate your car sharing app with a connected car API platform

Car sharing stands out to both vehicle owners and renters for a few reasons:

  • No dependency on fleet inventory
  • Lower prices
  • Instant bookings
  • The potential to monetize vehicles as a small business

Today, connected cars make up roughly 40% of all cars on the road. By 2035, 9 out of 10 cars on the road are expected to have built-in internet connectivity.

The future of car rentals and car sharing will revolve around giving renters the convenience of using software to locate, unlock, and return vehicles.

Here are four reasons why working with an API platform to implement and scale integrations with the popular connected car models:

Lower costs

Hardware bears a high initial acquisition cost and can become an unpredictable expense factor, for example, if vehicle owners stop renting out their cars but forget to return their devices or if vehicle owners churn before businesses can recover the hardware cost.

Hardware devices are also expensive to use. Costs for shipping, installation, firmware updates, and the replacement of lost or stolen devices quickly add up. These higher expenses also mean more trips are needed for companies and car sharing hosts to break a profit.

APIs, on the other hand, offer simple SaaS pricing that is easy to scale with product usage and business growth. Automatic software updates make Smartcar’s solution easy and inexpensive to maintain.

Faster product development

If you’re already looking into software-based integrations, then there’s also the question of deciding to build or buy your vehicle integrations.

Building vehicle integrations takes a lot of developer resources. Time and effort goes into standardizing data, identifying brand-specific edge cases,  keeping an eye out on changes in vehicle brand APIs, and maintaining integrations to reflect those changes and address errors.

It’s also important to remember that the integration you build today isn’t going to look the same in six months.  OEM APIs change regularly, with many changing monthly. By working with a car API provider, you’re essentially offloading resources for building and maintaining integrations so you can focus specifically on how the integrations work within your product to empower your users.

🧰 Wondering why companies use Smartcar’s integrations in their car sharing app?

If you’re deciding between building vehicle integrations or working with Smartcar’s standardized APIs, read our guide to learn:

  • How to know if your app will benefit from a decision to buy
  • The average resource expenditure for building vehicle integrations from scratch
  • A checklist for vetting potential integration vendors
  • 👉 Get your copy

Easier car rentals and pickups

Car sharing apps like Turo have the competitive advantage of giving vehicle owners and renters these digital features today. In a video by YouTuber and Turo power host, RC Simon, he explains how a customer used Turo to get a vehicle within 45 minutes after running into a rental booking problem after landing at the airport.

The customer used the app’s Smartcar-powered Turo Go feature with gives renters the ability to book vehicles in 5 minutes and have contactless pickup and drop-offs.

With Smartcar’s lock and unlock API, renters can pick up a vehicle by unlocking the doors through the app instead of arranging a time to meet and exchange physical car keys. Car owners can also share their vehicle’s location and mileage immediately after it’s linked.

Vehicle owners don’t need to install any aftermarket hardware in their cars, and they don’t need to be trained on how to use Smartcar’s technology. Connecting a vehicle takes only a few clicks in the car sharing app.

Fewer limitations on field operations

Vehicle owners can also use car sharing APIs to save money otherwise spent on local on-the-ground teams in hundreds of different locations.

They can provide rentals outside regular working hours without having to send representatives out in the field or set up offices in new locations. Businesses also won’t need as many staff members to improve on-site customer experience and manage long queues. As vehicle owners and renters don’t need to meet and exchange car keys, they can easily communicate and manage the entire rental remotely via the car sharing app.

Instant onboarding

It takes several days, if not weeks to ship hardware devices to the respective vehicle owner. Every day wasted on shipping hardware is a missed revenue opportunity for your car sharing business.

Hardware devices also don’t function correctly if they aren’t installed correctly. Companies either need to educate vehicle owners on how to install the devices correctly, or they have to build a network of technicians in every region to manage the installation work for them. Both siphon significant time and resources away from more important parts of the business.

With software-based integrations, vehicle owners can onboard their cars with a few clicks within the car sharing app. From here, they start using and sharing their digital car key immediately.

How companies use car sharing APIs

Market leaders like Turo set themselves apart with a seamless app experience that not only simplifies rentals but also encourages more vehicle owners to list their cars and add to the platform’s available vehicle supply.

With its contactless car sharing feature, Turo Go, the app has doubled down on the vehicle host and renter experience by allowing hosts to remotely unlock their car when guests arrive to pick it up. This removes the logistical friction of renting out multiple vehicles simultaneously. A 2020 study of Turo’s users found that 90% of hosts wanted their vehicles to be Turo Go-enabled.

The successful rollout of Turo Go was made possible through Smartcar’s lock and unlock APIs.

Our Smartcar Connect flow allows them to connect their vehicle with just a few clicks:

The digital car key API save vehicle owners and renters time and hassle. It creates a more seamless user experience and improves customer satisfaction for both parties.

Thanks to these time savings and flawless user experience, Turo has seen the number of bookings on their platforms increase after integrating with the Smartcar API.

Smartcar’s API for your car sharing app

Our API is compatible with over 30 vehicle brands, enabling your app to connect to more than 150 million cars across the United States, Canada, and Europe.

If you’re interested in learning more about our API for car sharing, you can download our white paper for a quick look at:

  • Why we’re the leading developer platform for car sharing businesses
  • How we provide value for your app
  • What your developer experience will look like with Smartcar resources

Vehicle brands, logos, and model names belong to their respective trademark holders and do not indicate endorsement or affiliation with Smartcar or Turo.

Everything you need to know about car APIs. Delivered monthly.

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