【英语财经】中国式分享经济 Shanghai Notebook: A sharing economy, Chinese style

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2014-7-1 01:01

小艾摘要: Let’s share: cars, flats, power tools. Companies from eBay to Uber to Airbnb have discovered that tens of millions of people around the world are both eager to stop wasting underutilised assets – an ...
Shanghai Notebook: A sharing economy, Chinese style
Let’s share: cars, flats, power tools. Companies from eBay to Uber to Airbnb have discovered that tens of millions of people around the world are both eager to stop wasting underutilised assets – and willing to waste lots of time figuring out how to share them with strangers.

But surely this flavour-of-the-month business model has no hope of catching on in China? Didn’t Mao Zedong ruin the concept of the “sharing economy” forever? Any mainlander over the age of 25 has plenty of experience with sharing flats, cars and power tools: it used to be called communism.

And there is another hurdle too: the vast majority of Chinese are still savouring the joy of owning their very first car or flat. Why in heaven’s name would they want to share it with someone who might scratch, dent or burn it down, not to mention smoke in it, eat in it or conduct other, less mentionable activities inside?

But what makes this kind of asset-sharing attractive elsewhere in the world also makes it increasingly popular in China: it’s a fun way to make money (and that is as popular in China as it has ever been).

The flip side of China’s image of ostentatious opulence is a taste for thrift which is deep and enduring – and exactly what the “sharing economy” needs to thrive. The same instinct that makes Chinese elders queue for hours to get a few cents or pence off the price of eggs is making their Audi-owning children investigate how to make a few bob renting out their luxury cars through peer-to-peer car sharing services such as ATzuche.

Earlier this month, Roland Berger, the consultants, published a report predicting that the car-sharing market in China would grow by over 80 per cent each year for the next five years. This was thanks mostly to the vast penetration of mobile internet access in the country and the willingness of local governments to provide neat perks such as free parking areas for car sharers.

So far, the sharing economy in China does not look much like it does overseas. Uber, the driver-hailing app that European taxi drivers love to hate, has set up in China too, but it doesn’t use private cars because the government will not let it. The company can only connect riders with cars from established car rental companies – and partly as a result, its cars have become infamous for being about the most expensive rides in town.

Uber says it’s not all about price. The company’s Shanghai general manager Davis Wang says it’s a lot like buying coffee: you can get an instant cuppa for a measly Rmb1 – or you can spend Rmb60 to get your caffeine at the Sheraton. Starbucks has admirably proved that it’s possible to sell something that China doesn’t even really want (coffee) for far more than it’s worth, merely by rebranding it as a western luxury good. But it’s not clear yet that Uber can do for car mileage what Starbucks did for coffee beans.

And the mainland peer-to-peer car- sharing market isn’t much like its stereotype overseas either: ATzuche, for example, is mainly trying to connect people who want to drive a luxury car (but cannot afford one) with owners who want to sweat their Audis or Land Rovers to make a profit. It’s definitely not all about tree-huggers arranging a timeshare for the communal Beetle.

Govi He is a typical ATzuche car sharer: he’s a rich guy with a spotless white late-model Range Rover Evoque SUV – the kind of car that can cost up to Rmb1m in China. He travels a lot, and says that if he uses ATzuche to rent the car to another driver while he’s away, he can save the cost of airport parking.

Wait a minute: didn’t Confucius say time is money? How could it possibly be worth the hassle not just of meeting his counterpart to deliver the keys, but dealing with insurance paperwork and loss of use if he wrecks the car? Mr He is planning to use ATzuche’s concierge service to handle all that. Let’s check back with him once the Land Rover has been in a few accidents, and see if he’s still a believer.

Even ATzuche co-founder Chen Weiyu says her own family balked at the idea of car-sharing. Cars are loved like a “second wife”, she says – given a choice, no one wants to share them.

But China doesn’t have a choice: there are 100m licensed drivers in China who do not own a car, number plates can cost as much as a new car anywhere else, and then there are the traffic jams and the pollution. Mao couldn’t make it work – but maybe ATzuche can: sharing, with Chinese characteristics.

让我们一起分享吧:汽车、公寓、电动工具都可以拿出来分享。易趣(eBay)、优步(Uber)、Airbnb等公司都已发现,世界各地有数千万人一方面希望停止浪费利用率不高的资产,另一方面又愿意浪费大把时间探索如何将这些资产与陌生人分享。

那么,这种风靡一时的商业模型在中国应该无望流行起来吧?毛泽东不是已经永久地毁掉“共享经济”这个概念了吗?中国内地任何年龄在25岁以上的人,都曾有过很多与共用公寓、汽车和电动工具有关的经历:这曾被称为共产主义。

此外还有另一个障碍:绝大多数中国人仍在咂摸拥有平生头一辆车或头一套房的喜悦。他们凭什么会想要与另一个人分享自己的车或房呢?这个陌生人可能会在刮伤车的表面(或房子的墙壁),将车身(或墙壁)撞出凹痕,或者将车(或房子)烧毁,更不用说在车内(或房子里)抽烟、吃东西、或者进行其他不值得言说的活动。

这种资产共享在世界其他地区之所以吸引人,是因为它是一种有趣的赚钱方式,而这个因素也促使这种模式在中国愈发流行起来(赚钱在中国从古至今都流行)。

中国惹人注目的炫富形象比较不显眼的另一面,是一种由来已久、根深蒂固的爱好——节俭,而这种爱好正是“分享经济”茁壮发展所必需的土壤。节俭的本能使中国老年人愿意排好几个小时的队,仅仅为了买到价格便宜几分钱的鸡蛋;也正是这种本能,促使他们拥有奥迪(Audi)轿车的下一辈仔细研究,如何能利用凹凸租车(ATzuche)等个人对个人汽车分享服务出租他们的豪华轿车,赚点外快。

本月早些时候,咨询公司罗兰贝格(Roland Berger)发表了一份报告,预测未来五年中国汽车分享市场将以每年80%的速度增长。这主要受益于移动互联网接入在中国国内的大范围普及,以及中国地方政府愿意向合乘者提供免费停车区等给力政策优惠。

到目前为止,中国的分享经济看起来和国外的并不太一样。欧洲出租车司机恨之入骨的叫车应用优步目前也已进入中国市场,但因未获中国政府批准,该应用不能用于招揽私家车。这家公司只能将乘车人与现有汽车租赁公司的车源联系起来——部分受此影响,该公司的车源现已落下城区最贵用车服务的恶名。

优步表示,价格并不能决定一切。该公司的上海总经理王晓峰(Davis Wang)称,这跟买咖啡很像:你只用花费微不足道的1元人民币就能买到一杯速溶咖啡——或者你可以花费60元人民币在喜来登酒店(Sheraton)喝咖啡。星巴克(Starbucks)令人赞叹地证明了,将一种中国人甚至并不真正想要的东西(咖啡)以远高于实际价值的价格卖出去是可能的,只要将品牌重新包装成一种西方奢侈品就行了。目前尚不明朗的是,优步是否能像星巴克包装咖啡豆那样包装汽车里程。

大陆个人对个人的汽车分享市场也与其海外原型不太一样:例如,凹凸租车主要试图将想要驾驶豪车(但承担不起买车费用)的人与豪车的所有者联系起来,后者希望让自己的奥迪或者路虎(Land Rover)跑起来、赚取收益。这无疑和环保主义者们为一辆共用的甲壳虫(Beetle)轿车安排分时段使用权不太一样。

Govi He是凹凸租车上典型的汽车分享者:他是个有钱人,拥有一辆光洁无瑕的新型路虎揽胜极光(Range Rover Evoque)运动型多用途车(SUV)。这一车型在中国的售价可高达100万元人民币。他经常出差,并表示,如果他使用凹凸租车的服务,在自己外出时将车租给别人驾驶,他就能省下在机场停车的费用。

等一下:孔子不是曾说,“逝者如斯夫,不舍昼夜”吗?怎么可能值得费那个麻烦:不仅要和交易的另一方会面并交付车钥匙,还要处理保险文件,以及如果租车人毁坏汽车所造成的不能使用损失(loss of use)。Govi He计划借助凹凸租车的看门人服务来处理所有这些问题。让我们等到这辆路虎出了几次事故以后再来回访Govi He,看看他是否仍对凹凸租车的服务充满信心吧。

即使是凹凸租车的创始人陈韦予也表示,自己的家人不敢尝试汽车分享。她说,人们像爱自己的“另一个老婆”一样爱自己的车——如果有其他选择的话,没有人愿意把自己的车拿出来分享。

但中国别无选择:中国有1亿人有驾驶证但没有属于自己的汽车,上汽车牌照的费用可能足够在其他地方买一辆新车,此外还有严重的交通堵塞和环境污染问题。毛泽东没能让共享经济有效运转起来,但或许凹凸租车可以,方法就是:以中国特色的方式分享。

译者/马拉

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