Increasing Number of Japanese People Are Renting Cars for Everything But Driving

Car-rental operators in Japan recently observed a very strangeĀ  trend – a considerable number of their clients were renting cars but logging an unusually low mileage or not driving the cars at all.

Renting a car is a very efficient and convenient way of getting from point A to point B, and operators prefer the distance traveled to be as long as possible, as they make more money. So when a number of leading car rental and car sharing companies in Japan noticed that a significant number of their clients were renting cars, but not driving them at all, they started getting worried. They couldn’t figure out why it was happening, though, so they did some surveys and got some pretty interesting results. It turns out that people are increasingly using car rental services for a variety of reasons, except driving.

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NTT Docomo Inc., a popular vehicle-sharing service operator in Japan, told the Asahi Shimbun that a 2018 survey revealed that one out of its every eight users rented a car for services other than transportation. The largest number of respondents said that they rented cars to sleep or rest in, followed by those who claimed that they used them as quiet, comfortable places to talk on the phone with friends, family or business partners.

“Usually the only place I can take a nap while visiting my clients is a cybercafe in front of the station, but renting a car to sleep in is just a few hundred yen (several dollars), almost the same as staying in the cybercafe,” one Tokyo man said.

Some people reported renting cars to have lunch in, watch TV, put on their Halloween costumes and even do facial stretches said to reduce the size of their face.

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The main advantages of renting cars for purposes other than driving are affordability and accessibility. It only costs 400 yen to rent one for 30 minutes, and it can be picked up from one of the tens of thousands of parking lots across Japan. So instead of looking for a place to eat or take a nap, people prefer to rent a car in advance, using their smartphones.

“Cars can be used for private space, one NTT Docomo official said. “People used our vehicles in more ways than we expected.”

And NTT Docomo isn’t the only company to have noticed the unusual trend. Times24 Co., the leading car-sharing operator in Japan reported similar findings. In its survey, clients said they rented vehicles to sleep in or use as workspace, while one person reported renting a car to store bags and other belongings in because the nearby coin-operated lockers were all taken.

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Car-sharing service operator Orix Auto Corp. confirmed that it too noticed that many of its cars were being turned in with “no distance traveled”, but wouldn’t disclose how the vehicles were actually used.

“We have no clear idea how they actually used our vehicles,” an Orix public relations officer told Asahi Shimbun. “The only thing we can say is that data show a number of people rent cars without driving them.”

The unusual trend can be traced back to the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami, when people started renting cars just to charge their mobile phones. Even though most clients still use rental cars for driving, the number of those using them for other purposes is slowly rising.

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