TRAVERSE CITY CONFERENCE: As cities grow, get used to sharing your car, Zipcar says

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Sussman: “We don’t share very well. We like our stuff.” Photo credit: GREG HORVATH

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Projections that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050 have big implications for private vehicle ownership and driving.

Like it or not, consumers are going to have to get used to the idea of sharing cars and using them only when needed, said Sabrina Sussman, manager of public partnerships for the car-sharing service Zipcar of Cambridge, Mass.

“We don’t share very well. We like our stuff,” Sussman said Wednesday at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars. “We like our things and that’s especially true with cars.”

But Sussman said the current urban model of privately owned vehicles sitting idle up to 96 percent of the time is not sustainable as urban areas swell in size.

Zipcar was founded 18 years ago with one mission in mind, Sussman said: to enable simple and responsible urban living and create more green spaces.

She claimed that a single Zipcar would eliminate 13 personally owned cars.

The company’s challenge in expanding is to assure consumers that “not owning a vehicle” does not mean not being able to go where and when they want.

“We want people to feel car sharing is just as easy as owning a car. The idea is you can go outside your house, grab a car and use it for an hour, two hours, three hours, then return it.”

Sussman says the company is devising strong incentives to get its customers, which Zipcar calls “Zipsters,” to embrace what she calls strong sharing behaviors.

“The model is you pay as you go. We pay for insurance and gas. You pay for your membership,” she said. “All you need is your card to get in and go.”

But at least one societal trend is helping Zipcar grow its business: personalization.

“What we are seeing in cities big and small across the world is that, just like they demand personalization in their shoes and in their burrito orders, they are demanding personalization in their mobility options,” said.

Sussman also said municipalities are starting to think about how their transportation departments, which operate bus routes and subway systems, can offer more personalization.

“We know the future of mobility must be connected, intelligent and flexible,” Sussman said. “And also it must be electric, shared and autonomous.” c

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