by Dan Sherman
I have friends in Atlanta, New York City, Los Angeles, and even Durham, NC who are Zipcar members. Despite having an eager 2006 Mazdaspeed6 hibernating in my driveway back home on Long Island, my parents insist that I instead use Zipcar at school. Why is ZipCar so popular? And is its strategy of infiltrating colleges around the country creating brand loyalists for life? My network of 20-somethings provided insight.
My Emory friends are Zipcar members because Atlanta stinks. Let me clarify—Atlanta stinks without a car. Students who can afford a car and all the associated costs (driving/shipping it to Atlanta, insurance, gas, maintenance, and astronomical $654 on campus parking) do so in a heartbeat. However, car sharing best serves the needs of the stereotypical car-less, cash-strapped college student who wonders, “How am I supposed to get food and alcohol?” With a $50/year charge for membership and around $10/hour car pricing, Zipcar has a low initial cost which entices students who drive sporadically or can’t afford having a car full-time.
So why doesn’t everyone have a Zipcar? For one, car sharing completely destroys the element of spontaneity associated with owning a vehicle. Daily dialogues between my roommates and me go something like this: “Yo, I’m starving, let’s get some Chipotle for lunch. OH WAIT, the Zipcar’s booked until 8 o’clock. Guess we’re not eating ‘til dinner!”
Zipcar advertises itself as “green” to no end. I asked a cadre of Gen Yers whether the environmental aspect makes them more positively inclined toward car sharing. Their response was that the only “green” factor that moved them had dead Presidents on it.
The appeal of Zipcar will most likely continue after my peers graduate and move to cities like New York City, Chicago and Boston. Even those that anticipate being able to afford a car of their own will likely stick with Zipcar to reduce the expense and hassle of owning a car in the city. As an added bonus for those from outside the country, a US state license is not required for Zipcar membership.
So it is cool, convenient, and inexpensive but how will they grow? Will the Echo Boomers continue to use Zipcar even after they leave the cities and move into suburbia? Probably not, but as long as it continues to communicate a hip image in college towns and large cities, it should maintain its position as the leader in automotive timeshare.