Back in February, Ford Motors’ financial-services division, Ford Credit, launched a pilot program in Austin, Texas, called Credit Link, through which prospective car buyers could split a lease on a vehicle with two to five other consumers rather than lease or buy one by themselves. The idea was to test out an alternative car-ownership model. In this case, one in which the leasers would create a schedule to determine who has the car, when they have it, and to split car payments however they chose. Channeling the gospel of the burgeoning sharing economy that has powered companies like Airbnb and Uber, the Credit Link program boasts that “it’s time for a new kind of mobility.” Unfortunately, Ford can’t seem to mobilize anyone to sign up.
Ford Credit spokeswoman Margaret Mellott told Automotive News on Tuesday that the company is “still seeing a good flow of traffic to the website, but we don't have any customers signed up at this point.”* Prognosticators may be prognosticating that we’ll all share a fleet of self-driving cars one day, but for now, the shared-ownership model is apparently a tough sell, at least in Austin.
One of Credit Link’s greatest flaws—other than its inscrutable name—may be at the core of its business plan. Financially, Credit Link might seem like a fine idea—the opportunity cost of a leased car just sitting in the driveway for 90 percent of the day might be too high for some individuals. But to make sense, such a program would have to carve out a niche somewhere between individual car ownership and car-sharing services like Zipcar and Car2Go, which are convenient and don’t involve coordinating with two to five other drivers. Unlike with those services—and certainly unlike with Uber—a car leased between six people won’t really be there whenever you need it. The only thing close to a guarantee is that scheduling will be a pain. (Although perhaps Ford might have more luck with Credit Link by focusing its marketing efforts: Shared car-leasing might appeal to people who have already proven that they’re willing to sacrifice some ease while participating in a shared venture, like the residents of a housing co-op.)
Unlike many sharing-economy ventures, Credit Link isn’t facilitating a transaction between two individuals or a company and individuals, but between a company and a group. And in this case, that may save consumers some cash, but it also makes their lives a little more difficult. Sharing is great—except when you’re sharing lots of hassle.
*Correction, June 22, 2016: This post originally misspelled Margaret Mellott’s last name.