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Why own a car when you can hire a cooler one?

Collaborative consumption drives the better use of assets, and often a better deal for customers. Better products at a fraction of the price. The subscription model builds community and loyalty.

Mashable_Image_ZipCar_BWBecoming a “zipster” takes seconds – register your details online for a $50 membership fee, and then whenever you need a car, for a quick 15 minute trip across town, or a two week vacation, just search your mobile phone to find the nearest cars to you, by GPS. Walk along the street of most cities and you will see Z spaces, reserved for Zipcars to be dropped off or picked up. Zap the door with your Bluetooth phone, turn the key and its yours for as long as you want, paying per minute.

Compare that to the cost of owning a car, particularly in cities where it might stand unused most days, depreciating in value with every days, and you suddenly have a good business case. It can even be cheaper than a taxi ride.

Zipcar was born in Berlin by Antje Danielson where “mitfahr” car-sharing had long been common, and then launched in Boston in 2000 in partnership with Robin Chase. Soon the concept spread across many cities. Early adopters were students, who in the past had dreamt of owning a car but usually ended up with a one on its last legs, and were far more attracted by a cool Mini Cooper for the weekend, at much less overall cost. As customers grew, the network was able to grow, becoming an even more attractive option.

Pivot points for Zipcars in “changing the game” of car ownership and rental were:

  • Explore: Observing a trend in one market, and taking it to a bigger potential market
  • Design: Innovating a better business model, attractive to customers, and business
  • Resonate: Targeting niche audience to make the case in relevant, emotional ways
  • Mobilise: Unlocking the “network effect” of more customers and more cars

The car-sharing concept grew rapidly. Many imitators emerge, some like Flexcar were acquired by Zipcar. Car manufacturers also woke up to the challenge, and launched their own versions like Daimler’s Car2Go. Car rental companies too realised that their future wasn’t in weekly airport hires, extending their business model with concepts like Hertz on Demand. In 2013 Zipcar, with over 800,000 members sharing 10,000 cars, was acquired by Avis Budget for $500m. In the meantime Robin Chase moved on to her next venture, Buzzcar, which is a car sharing network, where people with cars offer their spare seat to others.

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