Remember those “bike graveyards” that appeared last year after China’s bike sharing bubble burst? It could be happening again — but this time, it’s a “graveyard” for shared cars.

Thousands of unused electric cars were seen parked alongside a river on the outskirts of Hangzhou, according to Chinese media reports. They belong to an electric car rental company named Microcity, who describes itself as a leader in “car sharing”.

(Like “bike sharing”, this is more like rental than actual sharing -- all of the cars are owned by Microcity.)

The company reportedly responded by saying that the cars are still in use, but the Chinese report claimed that when using the app, they couldn’t locate any available cars nearby. 

A villager interviewed in a video report said that the company has been paying him more than 30,000 yuan (US$4,469) a year since last July to park the cars on his land. Another villager said to a local newspaper that she has never seen so many cars in her whole life and wanted to get closer, but was stopped from approaching.

Thousands of electric cars are seen unattended on the outskirts of Hangzhou. (Picture: The Paper)

Microcity is among the hundreds of “car-sharing” companies that appeared in the past few years, with the most popular ones deploying tens of thousands of vehicles across China. Their growth was sparked partially by attempting to cash in on the sharing economy (even though, again, this is closer to rental than sharing) and the abundance of EVs in China, thanks to heavy government subsidies for new energy car makers. 

But it appears to have been a bumpy ride so far, as several car-sharing startups have gone bust last year. In January, state broadcaster CCTV questioned the business model of “car-sharing” and whether the companies are really improving city traffic, since they’re putting more cars on the road. 

On Zhihu, China’s Q&A platform, users have complained about the poor experiences of shared electric cars, with many users saying that they couldn’t start their car again after stopping it on the road.

And it’s starting to look familiar: Togo, one of the most high-profile “car-sharing” startups, has been struggling to survive since the end of 2018. Users flocked to Togo’s office to ask for their deposit money, just like they did with Ofo.