Despite the majority of the carsharing market BEING ruled by the major car rental companies and automakers (Avis Budget’s Zipcar, Daimler’s Car2go, Enterprise CarShare and Hertz 24/7), there is still room for small independent carsharing companies to make their presence in their markets — or in the case of overseas operators, expand in a market all by themselves.
For the independents, it’s more about finding a consumer niche. Here are examples of independent carsharing companies in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Russia that target specific markets and audiences, including local neighborhood service, point-to-point, peer-to-peer, all-electric and student carsharing.
Coverage area: Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y.
Proprietor: Gil Cygler
Business model: Local carshare company; traditional model, station-based, roundtrip. Owned by AllCar Rent-A-Car.
Fleet size: 78 vehicles
Car models: Various makes and models, including Fiat 500, Toyota Prius, Ford E-250 cargo vans.
Membership: Local residents and local businesses. Renters must be 21.
Parking/access: Local parking lots, strip malls, business parks and gas stations.
Niche/audience: “Our typical member is the local resident who has given up his or car and prefers the convenience of dealing with a local company,” Cygler says. “With a smaller company, a customer can speak with a decision maker rather than being one of thousands of customers at a larger carshare company.”
Growth opportunities: “We see car ownership being less of a goal of New Yorkers,” Cygler says, adding that many New Yorkers prefer to spend on other expenses rather than the cost to own a car. “Uber and other carshare companies are changing the landscape. Residents are looking for the convenience that carsharing provides.”
Competition: “Our competition ranges from Uber and car2go, which offer complementary services, and Zipcar and Enterprise CarShare, which offer a similar service.”
Biggest challenges: “The challenges are member acquisition as well as parking acquisitions, since many of the local parking garages have exclusive parking deals with one particular carshare company."
Coverage area: San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Boston Logan International Airport (BOS), Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD), Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Dallas Love Field Airport (DAL), Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) and Oakland International Airport (OAK).
Business model: Peer-to-peer
Proprietors: Rujul Zaparde, Shri Ganesham, Kevin Petrovic
Fleet size: N/A
Car models: Various; non-owned fleet
Membership: More than 50,000
Parking/access: Off-airport locations
Niche/audience: “FlightCar is geared toward the airport traveler,” Zaparde says. “Our largest demographic is young professionals in their late 20s or 30s and also, surprisingly, seniors. We target the leisure market at the airport; we’re not targeting the local city markets.”
Growth opportunities: “We’ve recently launched many locations,” he says. “This summer, we were in three markets and now we are in nine. I think the growth opportunity is really in expanding to the large airports. There are a lot of network effects we can capitalize on; we will start to see more and more owners becoming renters on our platform and vice versa. We’re already seeing strong indications of this trend.”
Biggest challenges: “This is a very operationally complex business to run,” Zaparde says. “Not only do we have to deal with the renter side of the equation, but we also have to handle the expectations of owners who drop their cars off with us. I also think working within the constraints of airports can be a challenge due to their heavy regulations.”
Competition: “We really consider our competition to be the large car rental companies. They’re the ones who compete at airports — the market we’re going after. There are huge inefficiencies out there in the airport car rental market, and that’s our leverage.”
BLUEINDY (Planning to launch in 2015)
Coverage area: Indianapolis
Proprietor: Bolloré Group
Business model: Point-to-point, plug-in electric carsharing.
Fleet size: Estimated 500 vehicles
Car models: Bluecar, all-electric vehicle manufactured by French conglomerate Bolloré Group, 150 miles per charge.
Membership: BlueIndy will charge by the minute. Estimated fees are $5 for the first 20 minutes and 25 cents a minute thereafter.
Parking/access: Up to 200 parking/charging stations are expected to be completed by the end of 2016 (each station will have five parking spaces and five charging stations). Parking fees are included in the membership fees.
Niche/audience: “We think there are two main groups: millennials living in downtown Indianapolis and university students,” says Bob Briggs, BlueIndy’s director of business development. “We are also going to talk to major employers to see if they want to complement their fleets with BlueIndy cars; they may be able to have fewer fleet vehicles by utilizing BlueIndy.”
Growth opportunities: “It makes sense for Chicago, New York City — any high density population city where owning a vehicle is difficult and cost prohibitive.”
Biggest challenges: “I think the challenge is getting the people into the vehicle to try it,” says Briggs. “It’s all about getting them comfortable with the electric vehicle. Also, it has to be politically embraced in a city in order for this program to be successful. If you have all the regulations and rules against you, it’s difficult to implement.”
Competition: “There is not a lot of competition out there. You don’t have to pick up the vehicle and drop it off at the same location like car rental. BlueIndy is not car rental; it’s carsharing. It’s a service that enables you to have a vehicle to drive to your next location, park it and then someone else can take it. We expect those trips to be 30 minutes on average.”
Coverage area: City of St. Petersburg, Russia
Proprietor: Anton Postlnikov
Business model: Traditional carsharing
Fleet size: 70 vehicles
Car models: BMW 3 Series
Membership: More than 2,600 members
Parking/access: Fixed parking spots
General member demographics: 90-95% between 21-45 years old
Niche/audience: “Our customers include people who want to use carsharing as a replacement of their own vehicle and those who already have a car but want to drive a premium model for some type of event,” says Postlnikov.
Growth opportunities: “The market is new, so opportunities are everywhere,” says Postlnikov. “We will be expanding into major cities and also launching a cargo carsharing model soon.”
Biggest challenges: “Drunken drivers are our biggest challenge. Most of our big accidents have involved drunken drivers who are not covered by our insurance. We have implemented a fix by controlling vapors of alcohol in the car.”
Competition: “Currently, we don’t have competition with the same carsharing model. There is only one other company in Moscow doing carsharing. It’s called AnytimeCar and uses a point-to-point model.”
Coverage area: Across Canada
Proprietor: Michael Lende
Business model: Traditional carshare model. Fleet provided by Discount Car and Truck Rentals
Fleet size: 80 vehicles
Car models: Kia
Membership: One minor violation allowed in last three years.
Parking/access: On-campus, student neighborhoods and where students socialize, such as Starbucks.
General member demographics: students ages 18-26
Growth opportunities: “We see growth in the existing schools where we operate and hope to expand to additional universities,” Lende says.
Biggest challenges: “Educating people that carshare is cheap, convenient and sustainable.”
Competition: “Our company owns 100% market share in most of our school markets. And even where we don’t, we are the only student-centric carsharing company with a national footprint in Canada. We are also the only carshare and car rental company to outfit our fleet with winter tires.
Coverage area: Mexico City, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Puebla and major university campuses in Mexico. Estimated 800,000 people within walking distance of a Carrot vehicle.
Proprietor: Diego Solórzano
Business model: Point-to-point carsharing
Fleet size: 70 vehicles
Car model: Nissan March, Nissan Xtrail, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius, Toyota Hiace, Audi A1
Membership: More than 6,200 members
Parking/access: “We are the first carsharing company in Latin America to have on-street parking permits,” Solórzano says. “In addition, we park our vehicles in public and private parking lots, shopping malls and university campuses.”
General member demographics: Mid to high income, most 30-40 years old.
Niche/audience: “We have three niches,” Solórzano says. “One, people with no car at home and use public transit on a daily basis; two, people who already own a vehicle but choose to use our service instead of acquiring a second car; three, business owners who use our service instead of purchasing a fleet.”
Growth opportunities: “We believe the biggest growth will come from business users and people, literally, walking away from vehicle ownership.”
Biggest challenges: “[Having potential users make the] cultural switch is our biggest challenge. Owning a vehicle is still seen as an important milestone in people’s lives. We believe this will be overcome by the fact that Mexico City is one of the worst cities for commute time and traffic in the world. And at the same time, it has one of the biggest and busiest public transit infrastructures.”
Competition: “Our biggest competitor is vehicle ownership. We also face competition from traditional car rental companies.”
Coverage area: Albany, N.Y.
Proprietor: Creighton Randall
Business model: Nonprofit, traditional carshare
Fleet size: 6 vehicles (launched in August 2014)
Car models: Compact vehicles such as Hyundai Accent and Toyota Prius
Membership: Currently, Capital CarShare has 82 accounts and 93 drivers (certain plans offer multiple drivers).
Parking/access: “Our cars are located at six different parking lots within the city of Albany,” says Nnenna Ferguson, communications director. “Members make a reservation online or by phone as soon as 15 minutes before they need a car. Members pick up and return the vehicle to the same location for every reservation.”
General member demographics: “Our members are primarily urban dwellers (ages 25-50) who are choosing to use carsharing for the economic and/or environmental benefits.”
Niche/Audience: “Capital CarShare bridges the gap between public transit and private car ownership in Albany,” says Ferguson. “We serve a diverse community of families and individuals who desire the flexibility to choose their vehicle or have no vehicle — when walking, biking or using public transit makes more sense.”
Growth opportunities: “Capital CarShare envisions itself growing as an extension of transit throughout the entire capital region. Our nonprofit business model works for individuals, families and businesses, and we plan to broaden the scope of our membership in the coming years. Capital CarShare also has plans to advance sustainable transportation options in the region via electric and/or hybrid vehicles.”
Biggest challenges: “One of the biggest hurdles for most carsharing organizations is educating the market on the benefits of sharing versus renting and owning. Vehicles are not only a tool for mobility, but they can also be viewed as a reflection of self.”
Competition: “Capital CarShare only directly competes with traditional and for-profit rental car services. We’ve successfully reached community members in search of more independence for quick — and often habitual — errands that don’t require 24-hour usage.”
Coverage area: Europe
Proprietor: CS Group SRL
Business model: Free-floating electric carsharing
Fleet size: Between 50 and 500 vehicles at each location
Car models: Greengo iCAR0 electric vehicles
Membership: Thousands of members; 1% of city population is the target market size
Parking/access: Public parking is near downtown. Renters access the vehicles through RFID card and mobile apps.
General member demographics: Male, 30-40 years old.
Niche/audience: “Share’Ngo is a new brand born in Italy to develop ‘electric tourist carsharing’ in addition to traditional rental and carsharing services,” says Matteo Gandolfi, chief technology officer of CS Group. “The idea is to give to tourists a fun and easy solution to visit our country.”
Growth opportunities: “With more than 46 million tourists a year, Italy is the fifth highest tourist earner and fifth most visited country in the world. Tourism is one of Italy’s fastest growing and most profitable industrial sectors, with an estimated revenue of 136.1 billion euros. We want to attract tourists in strategic areas [such as] airports, rail stations, naval ports and the metro. With shared electric vehicles, we offer a tourist ‘offer pack,’ including a navigation system integrated with local tourist guide.”
GSA Offers Carsharing to Government Agencies
As part of a one-year pilot program in Boston, Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C., the General Services Administration will provide government employees access to carsharing vehicles. The four carsharing providers include Enterprise CarShare, Zipcar, Carpingo and Hertz 24/7. Carpingo and Hertz 24/7 will only participate in New York City’s program.
“In these cities, we assess federal buildings, availability of carsharing services and the best practices that the carsharing companies have to offer the federal government, including paper confirmations, keyless entry and total vehicles in fleet,” says Jerry Bristow, program manager carshare, FAS Office of Travel and Transportation. “As we evaluated the companies, we found that these four carsharing companies could meet these types of requirements and provide this type of service.”
Offering mainly economy, compact and SUV models, each of the carsharing locations must be within five minutes of a government building, says Bristow.
“Carsharing will fill that short-term transportation need for our government agencies,” says Bristow. “These pilot programs will tell us whether carsharing is more cost-effective and beneficial in lieu of taxi cabs or leasing or purchasing a vehicle.”
Since the program is still in its first quarter, government agencies are just signing up and getting familiar with it. Each quarter, the agencies will report how many are using the program and the costs involved, according to Bristow.