In a joint partnership with the City of Austin, Daimler launched Tuesday its car2go pilot project, a car-sharing program in which 200 smart fortwo vehicles will be made available to 13,000 city employees for business or personal use.

Through the car2go project, the vehicles will be made available to customers 24/7. After a one-time registration process, the customers can use the service on the spot by accessing any available vehicle on the street, or can book in advance through the online reservation process.

Customers may use the vehicle for as long as they like, without committing to a specific return time. Furthermore, car2go allows users to make one way trips. Charges are not based on distance, but on time - with rates starting by the minute.

"Car2go is an innovative answer to current and future mobility needs in urban areas," says Dr. Thomas Weber, a Daimler AG board member. "We are pleased with the success we achieved in Ulm, Germany - the first car2go city - and we are ready for the next logical step on our way to an international rollout."

Austin is the first North American city to partner with car2go, and is now the official headquarters of car2go North America LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Daimler. This launch follows the successful implementation of the first car2go pilot in October 2008 in the southern German city of Ulm.

"This pilot-program partnership between car2go and the City of Austin represents a significant step toward helping us alleviate congestion, reduce emissions and increase the use of public transportation," said Austin's Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

As part of the pilot program, the pick-up and drop-off area is limited to the greater downtown Austin area - about 17 square miles where more than 60,000 employees work. The use of a car2go vehicle includes all city-controlled parking fees. Car2go is paying a usage fee to the City of Austin in the form of free driving minutes for employees driving on city business.

More than 13,000 city employees have the opportunity to use the smart vehicles not only for business but also for private use. The billing rates for car2go include fuel, maintenance, insurance, miles and parking. Competitive hourly or daily rates apply to longer rental periods.

A car2go service team on the ground will handle daily maintenance of the vehicles. The service team will also ensure the vehicles are fueled and clean. If customers want to refuel the vehicles by themselves, they can use a pre-paid credit card found in the glove compartment of the car2go. The time for refueling the car will be credited to the customer with 10 minutes of free driving.

"The goal of the Austin pilot project is to gather experience we can use to ensure the public launch of car2go in North America in 2010 is successful," says Nicholas Cole, CEO of car2go North America LLC. "In the second phase we will increase the number of cars in Austin and open the service to the public. We are also talking to a large number of cities in North America and Europe about additional rollouts of car2go."

The smart fortwo vehicles for the Austin pilot phase are provided by the smart USA Distributor LLC.