The Austin Chronicle

Blame It on the Germans

By Kate X Messer, March 7, 2011, 12:05am, SXSW

If you’re planning to use Car2Go the last weekend of South by Southwest, you may want to come up with a back-up plan. This morning, Car2Go Austin announced plans to replace its entire fleet of Smart cars – which is great news… But there’s a catch:

The transition will occur between midnight on Friday, March 18, and 5pm on Sunday, March 20 – which happens to be the final, and most intensive, weekend of the 10-day SXSW conference. “During this time,” according to the company’s press release, “the Austin network of car2go will be temporarily unavailable for use.”

Blame it on Germany, where Car2Go is headquartered. “The expansion of the boundaries and the entirely new telematics system requires an entire system change. ... The transition had to happen at a synchronized time around the world,” explains Paul DeLong, Car2Go’s head of North American sales and marketing. “Those dates were assigned.”

Car2Go plans to dispatch 50 or so “relocation team” drivers precisely at midnight, Friday, March 18. Those drivers will trade the new vehicles for the old ones in locations they happen to have been parked at 11:59pm, Thursday, March 17. That should be interesting, especially Downtown, just as SXSW Music is hitting its stride. “SXSW is such an iconic festival in Austin,” says DeLong, “and we are trying to limit the impact on users by starting at midnight and doing the exchange as quickly and seemlessly and transparently as we can get up to speed – hopefully so that people using the program for SXSW can get back into those cars.”

The fleet will also require an entire change-over of the current card system: The old white membership cards will not work in the new vehicles. New, blue cards, which are compatible with the new technology, will be mailed to current members today (Monday, March 7), according to Car2Go.

Once the transition is complete, not only will Austin have a brand-new fleet of 300 Smart cars – complete with solar panels that will, among other things, juice the fancy new on-board telematic satellite systems – on the roads, but that fleet will also be available to 74,000 new people, as Car2Go also plans to expand its “geo-fence” – aka, the boundaries of its operating area. The expansion will push the existing southerly border at Oltorf to Ben White, while 183/Anderson Lane will now serve as the northern boundary, beyond the existing Koenig/51st Street limits. The Eastside will see expansion on the north (Manor Road) and south (Montopolis) tips, rounding out the already existing 183 border, while the Far West/Mesa area gets included to the west.

The new operating area will go into effect at 5pm, Sunday, March 20 – just in time for the last SXSW festival goers to drive home.

For details on how the transition will go down, what the new telematics will do, and more, see “Dude, Where’s My Car2Go?” in the upcoming issue of the Chronicle, which hits stands Thursday, March 10.

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