(Pocket-lint) - Ford now lets Londoners use its cars on a casual basis. Anyone can walk up to a Go!Drive Ford car, use the registered app to unlock and drive away, leaving it at any other bay they want. Just like the "Boris bikes" work, but without the worry of rain.
Other car rental services like ZipCar and BMW DriveNow are already out there but Ford is far cheaper and wants to be more easy to use than the competition.
The future of casual car rental in London is exciting with over 3,000 cars promised by billionaire tycoon, Vincent Bolloré. He wants to create his own "Boris bikes" for cars soon too.
So the race is on. We've given the Ford Go!Drive a test to see just how good this super-affordable service is.
How does Ford Go!Drive work?
Simplicity is the key. Ford has been alpha testing its cars and bays in London for months to learn what people want so it can offer the best service. The result is there are currently 15 bays about the city with around 50 cars. But the plan is to up that to 1,000 when it's running at full speed soon.
All a potential user needs to do is register with the app then find a car nearby, or wherever they're going to be. This can then be reserved for 15 minutes, with a five minute extension up to three times as you get close. Once near the car will automatically unlock.
Inside the car is a resizable cradle that'll hold most smartphones. The app will display charges live so you can keep track of how that 17p per minute (around £10 per hour) cost is adding up. Ford gives you the first 5 minutes free so you can get comfortable in the car before setting off.
The cars have all the bays programmed into the sat nav so you can simply scroll down to find where you're going and the route will appear. Ford says its working on integrating the car and app better. So in the future if you've already selected the drop-off point in the app, it'll be ready in the sat nav when you get in.
Unlike Zipcar your destination doesn't have to be back where you started. Once there you simply park, hop out, then end the journey and lock the car with a tap of the icon in the app.
All cars are stored in car parks, many with NFC card entry. The app not only details the bay you're headed to but also includes approach information including photos of where to look for.
What charges and car options are there?
The Ford Go!Drive service is charged at 17p per minute inclusive of everything. There is an option to drive a petrol Fiesta or electric Focus but both don't have to be plugged in or refuelled when you're finished.
Ford gives away £20 of credit to anyone that signs up. It also offers rewards of 20-minutes to those that take a 5-minute survey after each drive. This means that if you jump in and get moving fast, and do surveys, you could technically drive the Ford cars for free – for short distances at least.
By way of comparison the BMW DriveNow service is charged at 39p per minute plus congestion charges and Zipcar is about £6 per hour (one hour minimum rental time) with a £60 yearly membership, but this varies by car and can have other costs.
How will the cars stay available?
Ford says it wants to encourage people to look after the car fuel or charge levels by limiting car availability when below a certain level. So below 50 per cent charge in an electric car will render it unavailable. That way users will want to leave the car plugged in when left in its bay so more cars are available in the future.
At the moment Ford has people maintaining the cars and moving them about so they're available but in the future wants to automate this with incentives. For example to get more cars at a station it might be half price to park there rather than a bay that's a 5-minute walk away. So then users will "automatically" replenish cars so they remain spread out and available.
While Ford is testing both electric and petrol right now it may go with just one option in the future. It says the whole process is already a new experience for some who don’t want to couple that with driving an electric car for the first time too. Nice to have options then.
Who can get Ford Go!Drive?
Anyone with an iPhone and driver's licence can currently use the Ford Go!Drive offering in London.
Ford says it's perfecting the iOS app before it ports that across to Android which should happen soon. But before that an online web portal will be launched allowing anyone access from any web browser.
Ford also sends out a physical NFC card which can be used to unlock the cars as well as gain access to car parks where they are stored.
Ford is still moving tentatively with this project as, it says, it wants to develop based on user needs. So getting involved and giving feedback not only gets you free travel time, it'll help you shape the service of the future.
While the Ford Go!Drive is limited to central London and two car types now it may end up sprawling further out of the city, to other cities and even include larger vehicles for those making that inevitable Ikea run.
If you've got an iPhone, driver's licence and live in London we recommend giving the Ford Go!Drive service a try – you'll probably end up driving for free. Get in quick before pricing and offers change.