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  The Straits Times 2 Feb 06
Car-sharing scheme: Honda looks abroad
by Christopher Tan

HONDA'S high-tech car-sharing system, the only one of its kind the Japanese car maker operates in the world, could be exported to congestion-plagued cities around Asia.

The Honda Diracc scheme, which started back in March 2002 using petrol-electric hybrid Civics, now has more than 1,600 members in Singapore. Members use an automated SMS-based system to check availability and access cars via a card that doubles as an ez-link card. Charges vary, but can be as low as $4 for a 20-minute, 5km drive. The membership fee be as low as $30 a year.

Starting in the second half of this year, the current fleet will be gradually replaced with second-generation Honda Civic hybrids and 10 cars will be added to the 50-strong fleet. Soon, the cars could feature real-time traffic information, alerting the driver to congestion or other road incidents.

Honda recently added a new 'port', where users pick up the cars, at the HDB Hub in Toa Payoh, bringing the total ports across the island to 13. Two more will added soon, at HarbourFront and Leng Kee Road.

Honda Diracc is also working with the National University of Singapore on a more advanced car demand forecast program. Instead of getting drivers to move cars to a port where there is a shortage, the software will be able to predict demand and hence be more responsive.

Honda ICVS Singapore managing director Hisao Kobayashi said it has long been Honda's quest to start a scheme like this which, along with Singapore's, was pioneered in several Japanese cities and in Palm Springs, California. But only Singapore's model remains.

'Besides cars and motorcycles, Honda is the world's largest engine maker. But we want to be more than that and we thought this is one way we can do something for the environment,' he said. 'We hope membership will reach 3,000 here in the next few years,' he said. 'We are also considering replicating the system in other Asian cities.'

Honda Diracc is among several car-sharing schemes that have sprouted since NTUC Income began operating Car Co-op here in 1997. Car Co-op remains the largest, with 5,600 members, but Mr Kobayashi reckons Honda's scheme has the edge when it comes to convenience.

'The difference between us and other car-sharing schemes here is that with us, you don't have to book in advance. And you don't have to commit to a return time,' he said. 'We provide a transport alternative. People can see our Hondas as an option in their daily commute...or as a second car. 'We do not compete with the car rental companies, nor taxis, nor car distributors.'

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