KNOWN FOR taking pride in their rides, Americans spend big dollars on chrome rims, stereo speakers, and cowhide seat covers. They treat their cars like children and use them as an extension of their identity.

So, in 1998, when CarSharing Portland introduced the concept of vehicle sharing, people were quick to scoff. Few believed that anyone would voluntarily give up their vehicle for what basically amounted to an extended carpooling contract.

"There were skeptics who judged from their own experience of being attached and dependent on their cars that others wouldn't be interested," says CarSharing Portland president Dave Brook.

But in just two years, CarSharing has gathered 23 vehicles and more than 350 members throughout the city.

"People often say that Americans are in love with their cars, but I think what most Americans are in love with is the flexibility and mobility that having your own car provides," Brook says.

Portland Commissioner Erik Sten is one of the company's newest recruits. Sten says he was initially skeptical about joining, but realized he spent more on parking at work than it would cost to use a CarSharing vehicle.

"I'm just like everybody else who thinks 'well, that car sharing thing is great, but it won't work for me,'" Sten says. "But then I looked into it, and it's extremely convenient and way cheaper than a second car." Like Sten, many members who join CarSharing drive less than 10,000 miles a year or use the program in lieu of a second car. Membership costs $10 per month, plus $1.50 per hour and 40 cents per mile. Members may choose from a variety of vehicles, including two new gas-electric hybrid cars. In spite of the company's growth, however, Brook cautions that there is still one last hurdle to overcome. "Well, we do have a goal of being profitable," Brook says. To do so, CarSharing will need to double its current membership to 600. For more information, see