"Whoever controls parking controls the market,” says Julian Espiritu of Abrams Carsharing Advisors.
This was Richard Ull’s trump card when he started Mint, an independent, for-profit car sharing operation in New York City. Ull also operates Car Park Systems, a network of 50 parking garages in four New York boroughs.
Ull said the idea to start a car sharing company “was on the brain” in October 2007. In January 2008, he started looking for outsourced services. Ull hired a freelance Web developer and went with a turnkey hardware and software system from Eileo S.A. Ull says that although Eileo tailored the system to Mint’s parameters, the rest was virtually plug and play.
Mint officially launched in October 2008.
Ull manages the 42-car fleet with a customer service staff of two to three, a marketing/sales person and a fleet manager. A call center managed by a third-party vendor handles issues after 6 p.m.
Ull says the biggest barrier to entry was not securing fleet financing, but obtaining insurance. “They [insurers] may understand car rental, but they don’t understand car sharing,” Ull says. “For a startup, you need a good business model that the underwriter will buy into.”
It was important to show the underwriter the controls on membership, such as a threshold of points on a driving license and expulsion for a DWI. Getting the right insurance cost structure was paramount. “They may insure you, but if you’re paying too much, the model falls apart.”
Mint must carry the state minimum for insurance. The company offers a standard damage waiver and supplemental liability ($1 million) for single reservations or an entire year. Without CDW, members are exposed to a $500 deductible.
Ull has had “accidents in which finding the members would have been impossible,” he says, though he has not yet been exposed to any nasty subrogation issues.
Ull uses an environmentally friendly car wash, GeoWash, which is also good at reporting damages that members don’t. A good relationship with a body shop is also essential, Ull says, especially in New York.
No Background in Fleet
Ull does not have a background in fleet management, though he knows car dealers in the New York/New Jersey area. His fleet needs are small; therefore, he takes cars out of dealer stock rather than fleet ordering them.
Ull leases the cars through a smaller, family-owned lessor, which offered lease terms that were better than the deals of some larger funders, he says. The leases are open end, with 18- to 24-month terms.
Mint has 42 cars spread over 16 locations, 14 in Manhattan and two in Brooklyn.
There are three fleet groupings: “economy,” with smart fortwo, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Nissan Sentra models; “classic,” with the Toyota Tacoma, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Nissan Rogue models; and the Mercedes C300 is the “luxury” model.