SOUTHFIELD – Thirty students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn have been sharing three battery-electric Ford Focus cars for the past three weeks as part of a long-term study that will help shape the future of vehicle sharing.

The experiment was crafted by auto supplier Denso and NextEnergy, a Detroit-based accelerator of advanced energy and mobility technologies. The students insights over the coming months will be used to determine what features are helpful or unnecessary in current car models for the car sharing segment. 

Participants will reserve, share, and use these vehicles on a daily basis to run errands, meet friends for dinner or even catch a concert downtown in exchange for feedback on their driving and sharing experience. The electric Ford Focus have a range of from 70 to 100 miles before needing a recharge.

Some 150 students applied to participate in the program when it was announced on campus in September. Driving records were screened, students agreed not to drink and drive or use drugs before driving the vehicles, and the final number was culled to 30.

“Denso is helping drive the future of mobility solutions through this research and testing in a real-world environment,” said Michael Bima, a lead engineer in the North American Research and Engineering Center at Denso International America. “Our goal is to learn more about what technologies are most needed in car share vehicles of the future. And this will help us collect user feedback to design products for the car sharing market.”

Phase one of Denso’s study will focus on car sharing with a small group of users at one location where the vehicles are returned to a set location. Current car sharing programs have been open to the general public and allow for one-way trips. Denso is the first to gather user feedback and study the need for car share-specific technologies for people who live, work and frequent one location. Denso will present the study results at the 2017 SAE World Congress in April. Lima said the first three weeks of the project has shown the three Ford Focus electric vehicles have been heavily used.

The student experiment – the first of its kind by Denso to help shape the future of car sharing technology – also was enthusiastically embraced by U-M Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little.

“MDrive is a great opportunity for University of Michigan-Dearborn students to participate in an eco-friendly, alternative transportation option on campus,” said Little. “Our students will be one of the few who have the potential to influence the new technology decision-making process for vehicle sharing products, services and business models.”

The vehicles will be stationed at The Union at Dearborn where three parking spots with charging stations were installed by Denso. Students will reserve an available vehicle through a custom third-party reservation app and are free to travel without limitations within the continental United States. Along the way, real-time data will be collected through on-board diagnostics equipment and on-board cameras will capture video of the user experience while the car is running. Following each trip, users will complete short surveys and participate in weekly discussion boards to provide suggestions for improving car sharing vehicles of the future.

“MDrive is a great example of a collaboration to advance mobility research that will ultimately accelerate the mass development and adoption of mobility technologies and solutions,” said Jean Redfield, president and CEO of NextEnergy, which worked alongside Denso to develop and manage the program, collect survey data, and engage students.

Bima said this study is targeting millennials. Future studies will could include municipalities, apartment complexes or hospitals where car sharing could potentially have the greatest impact.

This story was written by MITechNews.Com Editor Mike Brennan. If you have a story idea you’d like to share, email brennan@mitechnews.com