GM Debuts Maven, Program for Several Car-Sharing Initiatives

Electric cars, autonomous cars and ride-sharing are all disruptors in the automotive industry, but General Motors, for one, is focusing on taking advantage of opportunities in changing times. The company just launched Maven, a program that aggregates its various car-sharing efforts, with a team of 40 GM staff and others from Google, Zipcar and Sidecar, with the goal of developing additional car-sharing services. First up is a car-sharing trial in Ann Arbor, Michigan, focusing on the university community.

Other Maven efforts, reports TechCrunch, include a New York service, now expanded to Chicago, to provide a fleet of cars in residential blocks; a peer-to-peer car-sharing service in Germany; and a GM campus program in the U.S., Europe and China to test more new ideas.

Rates for getting cars through these programs will cost as low as $6/hour, says GM president Dan Ammann, who will not divulge how much the company is investing in Maven. GM also invested $500 million in Lyft and debuted an all-electric car, the Chevy Bolt.


GM will also utilize connected car systems, allowing users to bring their music and preferences with them, and support for GM’s OnStar navigation, calling and security service, Apple’s CarPlay, Android Auto and more.

GM vice president, Urban Mobility Programs Julia Steyn notes that in the Ann Arbor trial, GM will also use WhatsApp to as a customer service tool to get feedback and field questions, making the auto company the first to confirm its use of WhatsApp’s new enterprise system.

With the purchase of ride-sharing company Sidecar, notes Wired, GM didn’t simply get staff and expertise but a potentially important patent. Sidecar, an early competitor of Uber and Lyft, ceased operation at the end of 2015. In 2002, founder/chief executive Sunil Paul was awarded a patent for “a computer-implemented method for determining an efficient transportation route,” detailing a system in which a passenger uses a wireless device to request a ride, which is then sent to a server, which finds an appropriate driver.

In other words, Sidecar’s patent — which predates Uber and Lyft — covers the modern ride-sharing paradigm. The patent has been referenced by 148 other patents — some filed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Uber — giving it more credibility.

Can GM use it to shut down Uber? Wired cites three “hiccups” making it less likely: GM could use the patent to sue a competitor only if it is the exclusive licensee of the patent; the patent more likely addresses a business method than a technical solution (and, says the U.S. Supreme Court, you can’t patent an idea); and because it’s never been challenged in court or at the U.S. Patent Office, nobody knows how strong the patent is.

“Right now, it’s hard to imagine the automaker attacking a company to control a space in which it’s not even active yet,” says Wired. “But it’s never a bad idea to have an extra weapon in the arsenal.”

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