Saturday, September 23, 2006

Face Off in Toronto

Congratulations to the Torontoist website for publishing a very detailed comparison of Zipcar and Autoshare. Marc Lostracco's longish article is very comprehensive and includes a great PDF comparing the two services. I've seen nothing like this sort of comparison in Washington DC or San Francisco.

Zipcar has come on strong in Toronto, having well over 55+ cars after only a few months (100 if you believe their press release, although you won't find all of them on the website). Their street teams have recruited a remarkable number of members in a short time (and all without a VP to lead them). But Autoshare was ready for Zipcar's entry and appears to have done a good job innoculating itself against the Zip invasion. After all, it's not the first time Autoshare has faced competition - several years ago another locally-owned comapny, Dashcar, made an attempt to get a foothold.

In actuality, the areas of difference between the two services are pretty minor. Pricing is structured slightly differently with Autoshare (or should I say AĆ¼toshare) being somewhat less expensive. Autoshare has a nice variety of vehicles, including sportier models. Zipcar has on-board computers in the cars enabling key card access to the vehicles, and which is seamlessly integrated into their help system. Autoshare says it will be upgrading to keyless access soon.

The article also mentions parking: Zipcar places multiple cars at fewer locations, a strategy I've come around to believe is better as membership grows in an area, while Autoshare has more single car locations, which has helped them serve more areas. In case you're curious, no, the two companies don't have signs and cars quite as close together as the picture from the Torontoist (above) shows!

One area of difference between the companies was I found interesting was what the article called Corporate Culture:

It is here that AutoShare and Zipcar couldn't be more different. Zipcar is an unabashedly for-profit entity with an established system and identity. It calls its members "Zipsters," and the website and promotional materials have "youth focus group research" written all over them. That's not to say that it isn't effective, and though it sometimes feels borderline disingenuous, it does give the company some solid attitude and character. Whether or not you feel comfortable calling a Honda Element "Enzo" is your problem.

By comparison, AutoShare is more subtle, folky and less, er, "American." Their branding is no-nonsense and unobtrusive, which they say customers prefer. I'll take their word for it, but I actually like seeing the cars prominently branded because it gets people used to the concept and tells everyone else that you've chosen not to own a car. AutoShare seems to project more of a significant social conscience which they promote via their interesting partnerships. Sure, AutoShare is likely just as much interested in making a profit as Zipcar, but the image seems more focused on economy and ecology. Zipcar's vibe seems more intent on making car sharing cool and to provide the right vehicle to enhance your image. Both tactics seem to work for their respective companies.

AutoShare President Kevin McLaughlin says that business has never been better and that, if anything, the entrance of Zipcar has helped business. So it would appear that there's likely to be plenty of room for two carsharing companies in Toronto.

You can read the full Torontoist article at the LINK below.