CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – With car-sharing programs popping up all over Venezuela, shoppers are buying cars to fill empty homes and buy them back if they have to, a phenomenon seen around the country, analysts said.
In the first five months of the year, there were more than 100,000 car-share programs in the country of nearly 200 million people, said Carlos Garcia, president of the Venezuelan Association of Car Sharing Companies (VACSC).
There were also a number of car-hopping contests in the streets of Caracas and other cities.
Venezuelans are taking advantage of the cheap car loans that are available for new car purchases and they are not just driving them.
Car-sharing services have made it easier for the poor to buy a new car without borrowing money, said Garcia, whose group works with several private car-shares.
“When we see people buying cars in the street, it’s a sign that we are in the right place to help them,” he said.
There are about 400 car-hailing services in Venezuela, and most of them operate in the Caracas area, which is largely home to Venezuela’s capital, but it has been struggling with an inflation rate of more than 50 percent and shortages of basic goods, like fuel and medicine.
Garcia said he was not surprised by the popularity of the services.
“They are there to give the poor a way to get out of the house, to get a new lease, to pay off their credit card, to buy groceries,” he told Reuters.
The car-hire programs, which have sprung up in recent months, allow Venezuelans to pay for the rental of a new or used car from a network of car sharing companies that operate in some of the poorest areas of the country.
The networks have also expanded their services to other areas of Venezuela.
In a recent contest, for instance, some Venezuelans who had already rented their cars from private companies were given the chance to purchase a new one, Garcia said.
But the Venezuelan government has been reluctant to allow the car-hare programs to be expanded, which makes it difficult to gauge the popularity.
There have been some successes, said Daniela Mota, the head of the National Telecommunications Commission (CONAD), the countrys telecommunications regulator.
For example, the government has provided money to car-makers to buy spare parts for new vehicles, Mota said.
However, the car owners have to pay their own costs for parts, and it is not always easy for them to buy parts from private car makers because the prices can vary widely.
Some Venezuelans are now getting out of their cars in order to buy cars at a discount, and they will also use the car rental services to drive away from the shortages.
For instance, the city of San Antonio in western Venezuela, where Caracas is located, has seen a large number of cars being used as taxis, and many of the vehicles are owned by the private car companies.
Many Venezuelans said they would use the services if they could afford it, but they have not yet been able to get financing for the car.
“The cars are not cheap, but the prices are very good,” said a 32-year-old taxi driver, who gave his surname as Juan.
“I would not sell my car if I could not pay for it.”(Reporting by Carlos Gomez; Writing by Jose Luis Gonzalez; Editing by Eric Beech)