Car rental companies have been cratering lately. But one upstart company has come forward with a completely new business model and is expanding rapidly.
So it’s no wonder that Hertz looked at Zipcar and quickly moved from “why didn’t we think of that” to “let’s give that a shot.” Enter Connect By Hertz, a car-sharing program clearly modeled on Zipcar.
Zipcar first started selling memberships and renting cars by the hour in 2000, but has really taken off in the past couple of years. First aimed at students, it’s getting plenty of urban professionals who don’t want the hassle and expense of owning a car.
My sister Maryanne recently joined Zipcar for $50 so she’d have occasional access to a car in Washington, where she’s living these days. She commutes to work on the subway, but one day she needed a car to do some shopping.
So she went online to reserve a Toyota Corolla (It was named Crathers. Really, Zipcar names its cars.), took a 10-minute walk to where it was parked, unlocked it with her membership card and drove off for three hours of shopping. The total cost, including gas and insurance, was $31.
Zipcar’s members are still primarily using it as an alternative to car ownership, or to a second car. It’s still not clear how well this model expands to cover car rentals to travelers. Neither Zipcar nor Connect by Hertz has airport locations, but members can reserve cars in other cities.
So it will be interesting to see how this develops, how business and leisure travelers start using car sharing when they travel. Restrictions on mileage and one-way rentals could limit the car sharing business, but, clearly, the traditional model of car rentals isn’t working very well right now for the companies that are selling it.
There are now Zipcars, by the way, at Trinity College in Hartford, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut College in New London and Post University in Waterbury.