NOVI, MI – The world’s biggest car-sharing firm, Zipcar, isn’t at all intimidated by the autonomous-vehicle future. In fact, it believes it is perfectly positioned to exploit it.
“We feel like we’re in a good place,” Zipcar President Kaye Ceille says here in a keynote speech to the TU Automotive Detroit 2016 conference and exposition.
Zipcar, founded some 16 years ago to “enable simple and responsible urban living” and now owned by rental-car firm Avis Budget Group, has operations in 500 cities in eight countries and offers cars for hire on nearly 600 U.S. college campuses, as well as at airports around the country.
Those who sign up for its services – now numbering about 1 million people – can access vehicles from various parking spots around a city or college campus, returning them to the same location when finished. Members pay based on the time used or through other monthly or prepaid plans. In Boston, for instance, all Zipcar members have access to vehicles within a 5-minute walk, Ceille says.
For every Zipcar put into service, up to 13 personally owned vehicles are taken off the road, the executive says. Members who have ditched their personal vehicles report they save some $6,000 annually, she adds.
“When you live in a city, you don’t need to own a car,” Ceille says, pointing to other mobility companies such as Lyft or urban bike-sharing services that operate alongside Zipcar. “There are many options.”
This week, Zipcar rolled out a new membership process that no longer requires a waiting period to book a vehicle. The company also is expanding a one-way service that allows pickup and drop-off of a car at two different points. Tested in Boston for the past year, that service is being launched today in Washington and Baltimore.
But it is autonomous technology that appears to have Ceille most excited for the future of Zipcar.
“Tomorrow the car will come to you and take you exactly where you want to go” before moving on to the next customer, she says. “I love where we sit today and where this industry is going.”
Ceille says her company continues to work with real-estate developers and policymakers on expanding infrastructure for Zipcar, and says once vehicles are autonomous cities will have more flexibility in how they utilize space.
“When you no longer have to park a car on the street, it frees up space for other things,” she says, suggesting more room for retail or residential construction or even parks and greenery. “That’s the future we see going forward.”
Although it “buys from all automakers” with more than 30 makes and models in its fleet, it also has special strategic partnerships with several automakers such as Ford and Honda, a critical piece given the recent flurry of activity by OEs to move into the new-mobility space, including General Motors’ recent launch of direct-competitor Maven.
“So do I think we’re going to be left behind? Absolutely not,” she says.
Zipcar, which recently announced plans to roll out its service in Brussels later this year, reportedly expects the vehicle-sharing market to increase exponentially from about 2.4 million users today to 23.4 million by 2024.
[email protected] @David Zoia