19 Jul 2016

Building car2go as a global product

Since our humble beginnings in Ulm and Austin, car2go had the dream of conquering the world of personal mobility.  In order to get there we needed a product that performs on a global basis.  

car2go is currently the largest and most globally available carsharing company. We serve nearly two million members in 30 locations, in nine countries on three continents. Customers use our products in ten languages, and we continue to expand our reach.



As a result, we have a distinct challenge in our industry.  Building a globally accepted product that is easy to scale, while meeting very specific local requirements.  Balancing local needs and ease of scaling has not been easy to achieve.

We made mistakes in the past. However, in an agile way we learn, adjust and adapt based on feedback from our customers and local operations teams.

Before moving forward, it is important to define two terms, Internationalization and Localization:

Internationalization – The process of designing a service so that it can potentially be adapted to local languages and content without engineering requirements.

Localization – The process of adapting an internationalized service for a specific language or region by local specific components or texts.

How car2go evolved 

When we launched our service over seven years ago as a pilot, we launched almost simultaneously in Europe and North America. car2go has its roots as an international company.

Despite this, car2go was originally envisioned to be a very local product.  In fact, in the beginning we thought that people would only be members and use car2go in their own city.

Our goal with the initial product was to test some hypotheses. Scalability, especially on a global level, was not the first consideration.

Despite this, we found the core product (rental process) was internationalized from the beginning, but we were not ready to efficiently scale.

Simple parts of the localization process, like content adaptations, involved major work by our development teams.

Local success leads to global expansion

The pilots were a success and customers showed us they wanted car2go in other cities. We needed to adapt the product in order to scale faster.  With the learning from our first two locations, we adapted our system.

First, we made it possible that new locations could be established with some easy configurations.  Next we enabled the local markets to adapt the content for our web interfaces and smartphone applications using tools like FirstSpirit and Phrase App.

This approach worked well and allowed us to grow rapidly in Europe and North America.  Then came our biggest challenge to reach true global scale — our launch in China.

car2go launches in China

For China, we needed to adapt some of the core functionality of our system.  The first challenge was meeting some legal requirements.  In China, processing of raw GPS data is strictly controlled – car2go as a foreign company is not allowed to process raw GPS data.

Our service is heavily dependent on providing accurate information to our customers about their location and the location of our vehicles the customers want to rent.  Map tiles from Baidu and Apple presented in UI’s, like our apps, use a “shifted” coordinate system.


In order for our vehicles to appear at the right position, we integrated the services of some local partners that can provide the correct shifting algorithms.

Additionally, we are required to check the identification of our customers against a Chinese government database. For this, we built a service to interface with the government database and provide real time feedback in the registration process, so we could tell if a customer is valid.

The biggest change was how we process payments. In the West we collect payments via credit card, and in some countries direct debit.  In China we accommodate a new payment type, social payments with AliPay.

This change required some major logic shifts in how we process invoice items, but the good news is this change will become the basis for our internationalized product late this year when we upgrade our payment systems in Europe and North America.

Have you used car2go in other locations on your continent before?