The service offers a fleet of pooled vehicles to membersEnlarge Photo
Although its most popular vehicles are smaller, city-friendly vehicles like the Toyota Prius and Scion xB, Zipcar typically offers a wide range of vehicles like the Honda Element, Subaru Impeza, Toyota Tacoma, or Toyota Sienna, among many others.
Rental-car companies getting into the business side of it
Some rental-car companies are starting to wise up to the advantages of car sharing, though it's not all that different than short-term renting in some cases. Hertz has a car-sharing "Connect by Hertz" service in some college towns, Enterprise has WeCar, and U Haul has a U Car Share operation in some markets. And there are locally run car-sharing networks in a number of other U.S. cities as well as many Canadian and European ones. Several automakers are also getting involved in the business of car sharing, including Daimler, with its Austin-based Car2go.
But even with all these possibilities, if you're in a major metro area and looking to borrow a more unusual vehicle, like a Jeep Wrangler or perhaps a heavy-duty pickup, for a special task, you might have luck with a service like Relay Rides once it gets enough users.
P2P car sharing will come first to cities that already have existing car-sharing companies, because "people there are already familiar with this concept," said Relay Rides' Mordkovich. "But you'll find more availability and a lower price," eventually, on a P2P market, he says.
P2P could work where Zipcar won't
Mordkovich reports that Relay Rides so far is seeing "a lot of people who are really enthusiastic." And, he points out, the company's business model has the potential to be rolled out in areas where traditional car sharing simply wouldn't work; he argues that Zipcar relies on its vehicles being used for as many as nine or ten hours a day to make a profit, whereas they make the same percentage whether the vehicle is used only an hour here and there. So you could see car sharing start to make sense away from dense urban centers.
If P2P car-sharing services take off, they could be yet another alternative to owning a vehicle that might sit most of the time—and for city-dwellers accustomed to shuffling unused cars around from space to space, it could help a lot with neighborhood parking congestion.
And given today's high rates of unemployment, we bet there are a lot of U.S. car owners looking for a better way of utilizing that vehicle in their driveway—especially if it puts some extra money in their bank account.