Doug Williams of Zipcar explains why car clubs can work for businesses just as well as they work for green consumers
BusinessGreen: So what is Zipcar?
Doug Williams: We are a car club company that has over 100,000 members and over 3,000 cars in 23 cities in the US, Canada and the UK. The concept grew out of environmental concerns and works on the simple premise that it is better for 20 to 40 people living and working in a city to share a car than each own their own car.
How practically does this work?
The technology and approach we use is focused on making the experience as simple as possible. For the business model to work the customer experience has to be as close to owning a car as possible. Customers sign up online and get a Zip Card. Then, whenever they need a car they go online or make a call and reserve a car for the time they want. They then go and swipe the car and drive off. We try to situate the cars as close as possible to the customer so it is often just a short walk away. Unlike when you own a car people also get an option of the type of car they want for that day.
What is the difference compared to traditional hire car companies?
We regard hire as a four letter word. We are available online and you can reserve and access a car anytime day or night; the cars are located close to the customer; they are available at hourly as well as daily rates; pricing includes insurance, tax, and congestion charges are included in the cost and petrol can be included as well; and we feel we are very competitive on cost as the aim is to make it cheaper than people owning their own cars. Basically, unlike a hire company, it is a self service model.
Who are your typical customers?
We locate in cities with high urban density, high residential density and high parking costs. We get people who tend to live in the cities using the cars for errands where they need to get outside the city centre and for weekends away. There are real environmental benefits because not only does it mean that people don’t need a car it also leads to behavioural changes. We've done customer surveys and found that 80 percent of our customers travel less by car once they've joined. They start walking or using public transport more, but they also know they have the safety net of knowing they have access to a car if they need it.
So can this model work for businesses? It strikes that it is more of a consumer solution.
A big part of our model is to address the business market and we are seeing a lot of traction from business customers. We see car clubs as a good alternative to cabs and limo companies as you can similarly reserve and get a car at short notice. As you can imagine a lot of our consumer business is over the weekend and after work which means we can offer really competitive rates to businesses during the working day. We have a Zipcar for Business tariff that offers lower rates between 7am and 6pm where daily rates start from £40 and hourly rates are in the £4 to £5 range.
What types of businesses are using this Zipcar?
We find a lot of businesses are using it as an employee benefit for staff who need to occasionally use a car during the working day to get to meetings and as a result they commute into the city in their car and pay for parking, just so they can get to a meeting. For example, in all the cities we operate in architects tend to be big users, particularly at green design agencies. They are often out of the office visiting sites and often have bulky designs with them that make it difficult to use public transport, but they don't want to drive into work everyday. Similarly, lawyers and ad agencies where people may have to go en masse to meet clients see the advantage in having access to a car.
About Doug Williams
Doug Williams is vice president of engineering at Zipcar and is responsible for the company's online, voice and in-car technology.
Williams joined Zipcar from voice and web testing and monitoring solution provider Empirix where he was vice president of enterprise engineering.
In addition to over 20 years experience managing technology teams, Williams holds a combined Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Degree from Princeton and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.
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