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Zipcar drives new idea about car ownership

Los Angeles Times
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 05:11 AM
LOS ANGELES -

Scott Griffith wants to rent you a car, but just for an hour or two, or maybe the afternoon.

He is the chief executive of Zipcar Inc., the Cambridge, Mass., company that in a few short years has signed up nearly 700,000 members and has become profitable in recent quarters operating the nation's largest car-share program.

Griffith, who has a bachelor's degree in engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and an MBA from the University of Chicago, talked about how car sharing is changing vehicle ownership.

Q: Where do you see growth for Zipcar?

A: The starting point is the cities we are in today. About 10 million people can walk to a Zipcar today in less than 10 minutes. We have about 700,000 members. That means there are over 9 million people who have not signed up but can still walk to our cars. Getting more of them to join is the most efficient way to grow.

New cities are the second growth avenue. We just bought a controlling stake in a Spanish company in Barcelona, and we have told Wall Street we will open another city in Europe this year.

The third thing we are looking at is driving more commerce within the membership base. Our aspiration is to create a brand that meets our mission — simple, responsible urban living. We want to create a community of Zipsters and figure out what we can we bring that community that drives more growth in commerce and the brand.

Q: Why is Zipcar popular among younger drivers?

A: Millennials really live a different way. Car ownership isn't as important to them.

If you asked people to name their top brands, it used to be that a car brand would show up quickly, but that is lower down for millennials, maybe into the second 10. If they had to pick between a smartphone or a car, they would pick the phone.

Our competition is really car ownership, not the car rental companies.

Q: Does the Zipcar model say anything about how society is changing?

A: We have more of a sharing economy. People are getting more comfortable with the idea that they don't have to own something all the time.

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