Feng Jingwei walked to a Roewe e50 parked at the Hongqiao transport hub in Shanghai, after returning from a business trip.
He unplugged the charger from the white-green hatchback and hung it on the charging pile, before driving to his office 12 km away. It was the fourth time Feng had used the car in a month.
The ultra small plug-in car was a rental that Feng booked online, one of 220 EvCard electric vehicles (EVs) lined up at the Hongqiao hub, near a high-speed railway station and two airport terminals.
"I don't have to queue up for a taxi or jam myself into a subway coach," said Feng, 31, who runs a small business in one of China's most expensive cities. "I don't have a car, but it's getting easier to book one on an app and is usually cheaper than hailing a taxi."
Five minutes after Feng pulled out with the Roewe e50, a Chery EQ filled its parking slot.
Lu Liuxi got out of the minicar, connected the charger and scanned a sensor on the windshield with his smartphone before hearing a beep.
"It's available now," said Lu, an EvCard employee whose job is to move cars between parking stations as instructed by a dispatch center.
"Hongqiao is the busiest place among all EvCard stations in Shanghai, and we send cars here many times a day," said the veteran driver, who has been employed by EvCard for three months.
Launched in 2015 by Shanghai International Auto City (SIAC) Group, EvCard is China's first EV rental service, deploying 3,000 stations and about 6,000 cars in Shanghai. It also serves a further 23 Chinese cities.
The rate is 15 yuan for the first 30 minutes, with each minute a further 0.6 yuan in town, and 0.5 yuan out of town. The daily rent ceiling is 219 yuan for choices such as the Roewe e50 or Chery EQ. A BMW i3, a more upscale vehicle, costs more.
On Wednesday, the State Council announced efforts to develop the sharing economy, amid efforts to boost innovation and entrepreneurship.
Rong Wenwei, chair of the SIAC board, said that when the idea of EV rental first came to China, a number large vehicle rental firms were interested but dragged their feet due to uncertainty over profitability. The state-funded SIAC, however, had no such hesitation.
"In such a metropolis, each step to make the streets less choked and the air less polluted is worth taking," said Zhu Jing, who is in charge of the EvCard business unit.
The effort is paying off. EvCard now leads the world's green car rental service with the most EVs, self-service rental spots and membership clients, and is set to make a profit in Shanghai in 2018. By 2020, it plans to build a fleet of more than 300,000 cars to serve in 100 Chinese cities.
"It isn't impossible that cities like Shanghai will see car numbers drop," Zhu said.
His words were echoed by Zhu Xichan, professor at the School of Automotive Studies at Tongji University in Shanghai.
"The car has turned from a luxury to a household item in China. Limited resources and roads make car sharing the most convenient transport solution," he said.
"The idea of sharing, plus new energy vehicles, may well be an answer to private transportation while the number of cars can also be reduced," he said.
Recent statistics are encouraging. DriveNow, a car sharing service launched in 2011 in Germany, has pulled down private car use in Munich by 25 percent in past years, according to German reports.
While Los Angeles is estimated to remove 1,000 private vehicles off the road, a Paris-based firm is partnering with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to supply 200 EVs and 100 chargers on various streets.