If not such a great moment for the US car industry, 2009 was quite a year for carsharing in the States! Dave Brooks of www.Carsharing.us out of Portland Oregon reports for World Streets on carshare developments in the United States over 2009, with some reflections on where things might be heading in the year ahead.
Best wishes to World Streets readers for 2010.
Here are some thoughts about the past year on carsharing in the US (sometime dropping back a little further into late 2008). The big news is that car sharing in North America turned 15 this year, thanks in no small part to Communauto – a silent leader of the industry.
The big news in my mind was the launch of car2go in Austin. It’s a very gutsy move on Daimler’s move to launch in an archetypal US city . As I have said on http://www.carsharing.us, I don’t believe that car2go is necessarily targeting the classic market, so it has the potential to be the game changer that American urban transportation needs.
I haven’t (yet) written about it (since I’m directly involved with it), but another start up that announced itself in 2009 promising to unveil another operating scheme – RelayRides – the first peer to peer (or person to person) carsharing service. It will enable private car owners to make their vehicles available for carsharing for a day or more at a time with the possibility to earn a substantial chunk of money each year. Of course, the operational challenges are significant since you now have to manage both the member/driver and vehicle owner sides of the equation.
There continued to be a strong growth in membership in existing carsharing cities. My guess is that most companies also experienced a growth in revenues and profitability, especially Zipcar (since they haven’t added any new major cities or expansion in overall fleet size (compared to where they were at the time of the Flexcar merger). I would be amazed if any carshare didn’t experience an increase in vehicle utilization (hours per day) helping out the bottom line.
What expansion that occurred was primarily in college and university carsharing services – which can be a very good deal for the carsharing companies since they usually involve a contractual arrangement with guaranteed revenues and handling of some (most) of the fleet management to the university. As has been pointed out elsewhere if you look at the budgets of higher education, they really seem to “get” the issues of transportation and are willing to do spend some money on it.
Meanwhile cities with revitalizing downtowns seemed to realizing that carsharing offered something of benefit and several RFPs (“request for proposals” – tenders to the rest of the world) hit the street – Miami Beach, Baltimore and Pasadena, to name a few. Meanwhile, in the LA basin, which once had more than 200 Flexcars, are edging toward putting out some incentives to attract carsharing – Long Beach, Santa Monica, Los Angeles city proper – as part of more comprehensive strategy to meet greenhouse gas reduction goals set by the State of California.
Partnerships — carsharing companies made some headway in 2009: I-Go Carsharing in Chicago announced a major partnership with the Chicago Transit Authority, ace-ing out Zipcar, for the Chicago Card Plus – a stored value card for transit travel and an RFID card for carsharing. Earlier, I-Go signed another partnership with the Parks District
Developments — Kevin McLaughlin reminds me that, “In Toronto, the city is finally realizing that it’s all about parking. Both AutoShare and Zipcar HAVE BEEN TAKING advantage of the development offsets being granted to new condo builders if they provide carsharing parking in their buildings (often as high as 10 few spaces per shared car, in the range of $200,000 cost savings!)” Toronto recently approved its first large condo (300 units) with NO PARKING for residents, and 9 shared vehicle onsite.”
The City of Winnepeg also provided a developer an alternative to meeting parking requirements by setting up an in-house carsharing service (since no commercial company operates in Winnepeg at the present time; Hertz, Enterprise are you listening?) http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/City-drives-hard-condo-bargain-44292562.html
On street parking continues to a conundrum for many cities. For some reason most continue not to “get it”! They’re happy to provide parking for taxi cabs, which are operated by private companies but somehow providing carsharing is controversial, even though the benefits to the city (of having cab stands) are much better documented and flow to the residents not (primarily) to visitors.
On the technology front, the big news was the major investment in French carsharing technology company Eileo by Hertz. Another major development is the joint marketing agreement between Convadis (Swiss car computer maker) and Metavera (Toronto-based carsharing reservation system provider). It was a natural link up since Convadis faced limitations selling their product since they didn’t have an integrated reservation system and Metavera was looking for a more fully-featured option to supplement their long-term link up with OpenCar Networks, used by most all of the independent carshares in North America.
Apps — Zipcar continued its focus on the flash with the industry’s biggest marketing coup of all time, scoring inclusion on stage at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference to showcase its iPhone app (replacing the interesting but limited Where app). While scoring headlines and TV segments, as happens with technology, the actual rollout was delayed for months over a seemingly trivial hardware glitch – making sure all the Zipcar’s could honk their horns with a tap of the button on the iPhone screen. But the independents were on the wave, as well, and Metavera, which provides reservations and support to most of them, unveiled its a mobile reservation site to work with iPhone, Blackberries, etc., while continuing to improve its web carsharing system with functionality that keeps up with Zip.
Battery electric vehicles edged closer to becoming a viable alternatives to gasoline/diesel with Nissan unveiling the Leaf EV; Daimler, after a year to testing their Smart ED (electric drive) in the UK, announcing the start of manufacture; BMW demonstrating the EV concept in a Mini, with a host of other companies threatening to manufacture – Th!nk, . The most interesting is Electrovaya, which opened what they called “carsharing” in Baltimore with a service called Altcar.com. By the year’s end all the vehicles were all located at one location downtown, the Maryland Science Center.
Better Place, Shai Aggasi’s much promoted and heavily invested EV battery service, which has always indicated it wasn’t interested in carsharing, cleverly signed a deal in Denmark for the railroad system (DSB) to operate Better Place vehicles in a public carsharing service at several train stations in Copenhagen and elsewhere. Finally, the City of Paris continued to move closer to their Autolib, EV carsharing system, taking time out in 2009 to get the surrounding cities to participate in the program as well. Similar to car2go, Autolib would offer one way carsharing between stations.
Meanwhile, given the US fascination for plug-in hybrids, in 2009 Zipcar followed HourCar (including a solar recharger station) and Autoshare into the Plug In Hybrid world with a single vehicle on their system in San Francisco.
Some comments about specific companies during 2009:
Hertz Connect continued to grow their fleet in Manhattan up to over 400 by the end of the year – certainly attracting members that have been frustrated with Zipcar’s on-going customer service problems there. Near the end of the year Hertz surprised everyone with announcements of major new international operations in Madrid and Berlin. Fleet sizes in existing cities are up slightly Paris now with 77 and London at 115. Hertz did send a message to Zipcar by listing 4 cars in Boston and further challenged them with token vehicles in Chicago and San Francisco.
U-Carshare (U-Haul) went live in Salt Lake City with 28 vehicles – concluding a protracted RFP process. The Salt Lake operation branched out from the traditional ad-covered PT Cruisers with a wide range of vehicles, including the requisite Mini Cooper, hybrid Civic and Ford Escape, Prius, as well as Toyota Yaris, Mazda 3, Ford Focus and several pickups and larger Ford vans, both passenger and cargo configurations. In other cities, such as Portland, Oregon, U-Carshare vehicle numbers are static and they continue to take a very passive approach to marketing – with no visible advertising other that on-street here and presence at a couple of public events.
WeCar (Enterprise) – continues to play its cards very close, with several university/college deals including University of South Florida in Tampa. Of course, Enterprise has the biggest challenge integrating carsharing into their existing business model of any car rental company since they already have extensive network of neighborhood rental locations, which, arguably would lose a little business from carsharing but would also likely funnel some longer-term rental business they would otherwise have missed
Independent carshares in North America continue to move forward – most continuing to grow at a more modest rate than previous years.
* Philly Carshare seems to be on the upswing after disastrous decision to terminate members and raise rates.
* Nonprofit Boulder Carshare signaled a change of strategy with it’s new name EGo, expansion and upgrade of its fleet in Boulder and more significantly locating 2 vehicles in Denver. They continue to offer vehicles at the remarkably sensible prices of $4/hr. + 30¢ per mile.
Another nonprofit, * Austin Carshare, which has been struggling to figure out where the capital to grow would come from since its founding 3 years ago, sent out a letter in the fall to members that they were considering becoming a cooperative. Nothing decided yet – perhaps watching what happens to car2go.
* Chicago’s I-Go Carsharing passed the 13,000 member mark announcing further expansion in targeted suburban pods including Oak Park, Evanston, Skokie, Forest Park, and most recently Des Plaines.
* Cooperative Auto Network in Vanccouver, BC, continues to provide excellent service and supports a number of smaller services in British Columbia with their Carshare Everywhere reservation system.
Meanwhile there’s a host of smaller carshares all over the US and especially Canada – with 5, 10, 25 vehicles. And there’s continued interest in startups for the second tier cities that the “big boys” don’t seem to want to do into. (Portland would never have carsharing today if Zipcar and Flexcar were making the decisions.)
Zipcar – last but not least, the market leader probably crossed the line into overall profitability, amidst several mentions of an Initial Public Offering sometime in the not to distant future. They got to profitability by very carefully managing their business – continuing drive more usage (hours per day) on the existing fleet. What expansion they did was primarily in contracted deals with universities, which produce a good flow revenue. Near the end of the year they announced another overseas investment, in Avancar, Barcelona, Spain. The exact terms of the investment are a sketchy but it’s going to give Avancar the ability to grow and there’s certainly plenty of potential in Barcelona, as well as other cities in Spain. Laying the groundwork for this expansion was an analysis and press release claiming a world wide potential for carsharing at 37 million members and over 10 billion dollars in annual revenues.
Ikea — You might have missed it, but back in March, there was a minor flurry of speculation that multinational retail giant Ikea might be getting into the car business under the brand name of Lesko, around which they developed a stealth marketing campaign. Speculation ran from manufacturing a vehicle to operating a carsharing service. It turns out Lesko IS a carsharing service – but in the UK sense of the word – and what Ikea did was set up a “covoiture” ride board on their web site so people could hitch rides. How they would get all their stuff home is not explained. (If they’d waited just a little longer they could have bought Saab or Volvo!)
I’m sure I’ve overlooked some significant developments, so let me know what you think was important in 2009. I wish World Streets and its many readers worldwide the best for 2010.
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Dave Brook is a pioneering figure in US carsharing and now works as a consultant in carsharing and new mobility services to start up companies and government agencies. He occasionally posts ideas about carsharing in North America and the world to his website www.Carsharing.us.
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Want more on carsharing around the world?
No problem. Get comfortable, pour yourself a cup of coffee and take a bit of time to investigate . . .
1. All World Streets articles on carsharing – http://tinyurl.com/ws-carsharing
2. The World Carshare Consortium at http://www.worldcarshare.com
3. Search World Carshare’s member forum – http://groups.yahoo.com/group/WorldCarShare/messages (You have to be a member of the forum to make this work, but that’s no problem. Just send a quick email to the editor here – email@example.com and it will be done.)
4. Finally check out our rather huge, tightly focused New Mobility Knowledge Base (http://www.Knoogle.net on carsharing world-wide at http://tinyurl.com/kn-carshare. (Careful here: this will call up more than 500 references so you may want to think about narrowing your search to a country, city, supplier, whatever. For that drop to the bottom of the page and try “Search within results”. You’ll see.)
As you will quickly see this is an existing, fast-developing and thoroughly practical transportation innovation that is ready to go. It is a key component of the path to sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives.
We can do it.