Pay-by-the-mile car insurance startup unveils new web tools, plans to grow

a Portlander scopes out the appetizer table at a MetroMile event WednesdayTwo months after its national debut in Oregon, pay-by-the-mile car insurance company MetroMile is testing new features and aiming to expand into other markets by summer.

At a Portland event Wednesday night, CEO Steve Pretre showed off a new set of digital tools to advance his vision of building a radically transparent car insurance company: attractive web-based data visualizations that track MetroMile customers’ actual gas mileage, optimal vehicle speed, daily gas consumption, trip length frequency and cost of a MetroMile policy compared to a driver’s previous plan.

"This isn’t just about insurance," Pretre said. "It’s about ‘How do we save you time and money on things that are related to your car?’"

After some early tweaks to its pricing – discovering, for example, that national competitors like Progressive offer a short-term introductory premium and quickly cutting MetroMile’s base prices to compete – the California-based startup says that in most cases it meets its goal of beating traditional car-insurance rates for vehicles driven fewer than 10,000 miles per year.

Instead of charging the same rate to all comparable drivers regardless of usage, MetroMile charges its customers a base monthly fee of perhaps $20 to $60, plus a per-mile fee of perhaps 3 to 6 cents per mile driven up to 150 miles per day. Drive few enough miles, and in many cases you’ll pay less.

But that’s not the case for every driver, Pretre said – and if it’s not, he said MetroMile has no interest in playing price games.

"If it’s not right for them, we want them to know that," Pretre said. "We don’t do any cancellation fees or anything."

Pretre wouldn’t disclose sales figures, but said a MetroMile promotion that gives 100 people free access to the company’s online data dashboard had filled up. He said the company had started filing for the right to sell insurance in other states.

"We’d like to be other places by midyear," Pretre said. He expects to continue using Portland as a test market for new MetroMile features.

Pretre said his favorite stories from MetroMile’s first two months on the market came from learning the quirks of new customers. He recalled one customer who’d signed up for the service, but according to MetroMile’s data didn’t log a single mile driven for weeks.

The MetroMile team contacted the man, worried that their hardware was malfunctioning.

It wasn’t.

"It’s been so long since I drove my car," he told the company, according to Pretre. "The battery’s dead."

You can find out if MetroMile would save your household money using the company’s one-page online price calculator.

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