The recent purchase of the world’s largest car sharing club, Zipcar, by the world’s third largest car rental company, AVIS, for about $500 million hit the headlines in January. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next year or two: it would be fair to say that opinion is divided, some cautiously optimistic, others decidedly pessimistic.
I always find car sharing hard to explain because the term “car sharing” has four different meanings:
- Car clubs (but often called car sharing): people are grouped together by a company to share the use of a car. Usually the people live in the same street. Members of the club can often also use the club’s cars in other areas. Zipcar is the world’s largest car club.
- Car joint ownership: a few people get together to buy a car together, often a third or fourth car such as a sports car or classic car. yours2share is one way that people find partners to buy together; specialist car clubs is the other route.
- Lift sharing (but again often called car sharing): people arrange to give lifts in their car in return for a contribution to petrol costs. This can be a one-off, usually long, journey, or a regular journey such as commuting to and from work. Liftshare is a good example.
- Peer to peer car sharing: people rent their car to other people by the hour via an intermediary website that checks DVLA and insurance. Like ebay, reviews by both owner and renter maintain good behaviour. Get Around and RelayRides are the biggest players in the USA: WhipCar in the UK.
There are many collaborative consumption start-ups working on car sharing: cars are expensive and often used for only a few minutes a day, so any car sharing business model that actually works is destined to be lucrative. The tricky bit is finding the right model.
One of the most successful operators has been quietly getting on with it only a few miles from me in Norfolk. Liftshare is owned and run by Ali Clabburn, who founded the company 12 years ago in Attleborough and has just moved his offices to Norwich. Over the years we’ve spoken to several times on the phone, but we met for the first time only recently.
Initially Liftshare looks just like other liftsharing websites such as Blablacar, Carpooling and many others. But there is a lot more to Liftshare than meets the eye. Most of their business is supplying large organisations with lift sharing schemes for their employees. This enables the organisations to reduce their employees’ journey costs, reduce local congestion, reduce the number of car parking spaces they need to provide, polish their corporate social responsibilities credentials, and wide range of other benefits.
It also enables Liftshare to maximise the environmental benefit of their activities because they focus upon commuting, which generates more car journeys than anything else. Liftshare currently manages the car sharing for over 1200 organisations: it has a direct effect on an incredible number of cars, drivers and passengers.
Ali is now working on another big project to develop a new peer to peer car sharing service for the UK. Called CarLoco, it will be launched in a few weeks and I’ll tell you more then, but Ali has told me a little about the plans and I think Liftshare’s CarLoco really has wheels.