Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Carsharing in the US: Quo vadis Hertz

Connect by Hertz is the latest entrant in the carshare sweep stakes. Hertz has been a pillar of the car rental industry for many decades, but does this automatically guarantee success in what is after all a very different business?
- Dave Brook reports from Portland OR USA

Hertz Connect Rolling Out New Cities

The new carshare on the street, Connect By Hertz, is showing it means business. After the initial launch in Manhattan, London and Paris, Connect spent some time getting their feet on the ground. But they were busy in the spring and by this summer Connect had expanded their New York fleet to over 400 hundred vehicles - competing in Zipcar's sweetest neighborhoods all over Manhattan. The growth was facilitated by their partnership with Icon Parking, Connect now has locations from the tip of Manhattan up to East and West 90th Streets. In comparison Zip has over 2000 vehicles in several boroughs and adjacent New Jersey communities).

A recent check of the Hertz Connect web site now lists Boston, Chicago, Washington DC and San Francisco, each with one location with several vehicles. In Chicago, for example, the downtown Loop location has 4 vehicles - 2 Priuses, a Ford Escape SUV and a Camry. (The Washington DC location is at Marriot hotel corporate headquarters and could be laying the groundwork for a very interesting partnership.) Oddly Denver isn't one of the cities listed, although the Spire condo project there indicates they'll be offering residents Connect services. That would make Denver the city with the most carsharing services right now - E-Go (Boulder Carshare), Occasional Car (a recent start up with 2 vehicles) and Hertz Connect.

And Connect has added a couple of college/university campuses to its list - having taken them away from Zipcar. These are naturals for Connect since Hertz likely has a branch in the town so adding carsharing is a piece of cake.

But exactly how they're achieving this growth is a bit of a mystery - since they don't seem to be using any of the traditional marketing approaches - transit advertising, media trade outs, etc. They have done some interesting awareness campaigns using Go Gorilla Media including sidewalk logo projections, sidewalk stenciling (is that legal?) and fake "lost dog" signs (the tear offs give the Hertz Connect web site).

Hertz Connect is going after a somewhat different customer demographic - offering more vehicles on the upscale end. In addition to a Mini or a Prius at just about every location, and the usual assortment of Mazda 3s and Toyota Yaris, there are many Camrys and some locations have Volvo C70s and even a Mercedes GLK 350!

Hertz Connect is being helped in NYC by Zipcar's on-going problems with customer service. The Zipcar call center can be infuriating (I know from experience) and fleet maintenance in NYC (and other cities) apparently leaves a LOT to be desired - read a bunch of uphappy Zipcar members complaining (and very few members complimenting) on Yelp.

The London and Paris operations of Connect remain mysteries with only minor expansions of the fleet. But perhaps that's not surprising because Zipcar has been having trouble figuring out the UK market and they've been in London and LOT longer than Hertz Connect. And speaking of mysteries, Mint in New York, is another mystery - very little action since their launch.

And while I'm on the subject of car rental companies operating carsharing, it's worth nothing that U-Carshare by U-Haul has been quietly adding additional cities and a couple of schools, as well. That said, the U-Carshare marketing strategy is also a mystery - almost invisible in my home town of Portland, Oregon .

It's shaping up to be an interesting year in carsharing.

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Dave Brook is a consultant in carsharing and new mobility services to start up companies and government agencies. He occasionally posts ideas about carsharing in North America and the world to his website www.Carsharing.us.

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