Individual Perception of the Automobile in the Sharing Economy: A Sequence Analysis of User Data

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2017)


 Sharing economy challenges the traditional automotive industry and changes the individual perception of automobiles. Companies like Uber and BlaBlaCar define new usage patterns in a social context based on sharing and community. These usage patterns serve as alternatives to the traditional consumer behavior in the automotive industry and could result in building alternative images of the traditional private car among users.

Recent research concentrates on the probability for car sharing services to replace private car ownership. For instance, the paper by Firnkorn and Müller (2011) showed that a quarter of respondents in a German city (Ulm) would consider forgoing car purchase if car sharing services were available. Speaking about the motivations for participation in sharing economy, the motivations are shown to be same for different sharing economy services. As it was demonstrated by Möhlmann(2015), cost savings, familiarity, service quality, trust, and utility are decisive factors for using both Uber and Airbnb. Although the research provides findings on individual motivations and further development possibilities, there is little information about the consumer behavior in the sharing economy.

This paper attempts understanding the sharing economy’s role for individual understanding of the automobiles on the example of a German car sharing service. StadtMobil Rhein-Neckar AG is a local car sharing service in the southwest of Germany, connected to other local car-sharing services across Germany. The automobiles are available for short-term rent or in long-term abonnements with monthly payments starting from 0 euros. Furthermore, Stadtmobil combines two types of car sharing services: the automobiles are available as station-based or free-floating. This concept differentiates from the above-mentioned Uber and BlaBlaCar, as well as from established rental services through its attempt to replace the private car ownership without changing the individual behavior.

This paper uses anonymized data of Stadtmobil users for understanding the most widespread customer behavior patterns. The theoretical framework is provided by the Max Weber’s classification of social action. According to the theoretical framework, users can be divided into four ideal types, three of which are analyzed in this paper. The types can be defined as follows: traditional users are suggested to follow established behavioral patterns in the changing environment. In the example of car sharing, the traditionalists are expected to show patterns close to the usage of a personal car. The affectual users, on the other hand, are expected to act situationally. For the car sharing users, affectual action type demonstrates spontaneous usage demarcated by longer pauses and incoherent user behavior, e.g. both short and long trips with no regular patterns on the individual level. Third type – rationalists – is following logical patterns defining means most suitable for the purpose. Following, the rationalists are expected to develop behavioral patterns demonstrating the usage of a car sharing automobile for a specific purpose. The expected ideal user types are defined based on two key dimensions – variance of usage characteristics and usage frequency. 

For understanding individual behavioral patterns, sequence analysis of customer journeys is conducted. For every individual, a sequence of events represented in the booking data is constructed. These events include registration, time until the first drive in a shared car, further use and non-use experiences, as well as abonnement changes and abonnement termination. Further, a cluster analysis is used for grouping the individuals by their behavioral patterns. A comparison between the data-based representation of the users with the developed ideal type perspective allows demonstrating the effect that sharing economy has on the usage of private cars.

Preliminary analysis of the limited sample shows that an individual uses Stadtmobil cars in the city environment, while there are certain trips outlying from this pattern in usage time and trip duration. The novelty of the analysis lies, firstly, in the user perspective that is behavioral and not attitudinal. The second advantage of the analysis is the dataset used in the paper, as the data are longitudinal real use and not survey data. Thus, this paper allows defining usage patterns of people in the real environment. A combination of the results with findings provided by survey analysis allows for unique insights into the future of car sharing and trends in private car perception by individuals.

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