Monday, July 13, 2009

"The only good green vehicle is a shared green vehicle"

A recent article under the title : "Zipcar Launches All-Electric Car-Share Scheme" has set off an interesting exchange on a matter that is close to the heart of World Streets and one which we would like to share with you. And in turn invite your comments and discussion.

This exchange concerns a fundamental strategic issue much bandied and discussed under the heading of technology responses to environmental and climate problems. There is, in our view, a lot of loose thinking on this topic. Let's have a look at one example:

The first piece that leads off this discussion is an article that appeared on 10 July in a blog entitled “gas2.0 biofuels, oil, a revolution”, under the title “Zipcar Launches All-Electric Car-Share Scheme”. Looks to me like a basic cut and paste of a Zipcar press release. (Fair enough!)

The second piece, a commentary by our old friends over at City CarShare in San Francisco (Hey, we love Zipcar too!) is considerably more interesting in our context, in that it provides broader context on “green vehicles”.

1. Zipcar Launches All-Electric Car-Share Scheme

By Andrew Williams. 10 July 2009

US-based car-share giant Zipcar Inc. has launched its first ever Electric Vehicle Pod, featuring an all-electric Citroen C1 and a Plug-In Toyota Prius. The vehicles, among the most efficient and technologically advanced on the road today, can be hired by the hour for a fraction of the cost of owning one.

The company figures that EVs are ideally suited for early, large-scale use in Zipcar’s car sharing platform since the average Zipcar trip lasts just under four hours and less than 25 miles, well within the range of a typical EV.

* See also: Seattle will be the Leader in Clean Energy and Electric Vehicles
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In a press release last weekend, Scott Griffith, Chairman and CEO of the company, the world’s largest car-sharing scheme said: “Since early in this decade, Zipcar has been integrating alternative vehicles into the fleet - giving our members the opportunity to push the envelope and evaluate a range of advanced-vehicle technologies. Our proprietary car sharing technology platform allows us to manage a variety of cutting-edge vehicles, serving hundreds of thousands of Zipsters who benefit from convenience, cost savings and a commitment to reducing carbon emissions.”

Zipcar was an early adopter of alternative fuel technologies, and in 2003 became the first car sharing company to offer hybrids to its members. The following year, they teamed up with Toyota to offer all-electric RAV 4’s. In the last five years, Zipcar has added a respectable 1,000 hybrids to the fleet, more than any other car-sharing company, and estimates more than 100,000 unique members have driven an EV or hybrid.
Source: (It is instructive to work ones way down the chain behind True to their title: EVs and alternative fuels are up at the top of their list. Fair enough!)
2. City CarShare commentary

Anita wrote on July 10th, 2009 at 10:48 pm

City CarShare, a San Francisco nonprofit car sharing organization, is pleased to see that Zipcar is integrating more fuel-efficient cars into its fleet.

There are a few inaccuracies in the article, however, which we feel compelled to highlight. For example, this article is incorrect in stating that Zipcar was the first to introduce a hybrid into a car share fleet. City CarShare, a leader in introducing green vehicles, introduced hybrids into our fleet in early 2002. We also had eight Ford Think electric vehicles in our fleet in 2002, which were recalled along with all of the Ford Think EVs (we also experienced charging issues described in the article). This year we introduced two hybrid plug-in vehicles - we can’t claim to be the first, however, since Autoshare (Toronto) and HourCar (Minneapolis) were first in North America.

While increasing the number of hybrids that Zipcar has in its worldwide fleet is commendable, we hope to see Zipcar continue to increase the percentage of hybrids in its fleet and, for that matter, to include only fuel-efficient and top-rated low-emission vehicles. For City CarShare, and many other independent car share providers, our vehicles are at the top of their class for fuel-efficiency and low emissions, with hybrids comprising over 1/3 of our fleet and growing.

As Zipcar provides more eco-sensitive cars - and we hope to see this trend continue - we also encourage them to promote ‘less driving’ by their members, in contrast to their current advertising campaign, which promotes driving as much as you want as long as you return the car. If pursued, these efforts would lead to fewer miles of travel for their customers, reducing total emissions and congestion in the areas they operate.

Finally, for those interested, there are approximately 30 independent car share providers in North America, working in their communities to reduce car ownership and driving. Many have contributed to, and adhere to, the Car Share Industry Code of Ethics, which can be found at

# # #

From the editor:

Thanks City CarShare, if you recall it was seven long years ago that my follow jurors and I chose you as one of three co-winners of the award of the Stockholm Partnerships for Sustainable Cities” Clearly we did not make a mistake back then, and how great to have you still out there and doing your bit for our planet.)

And thanks to for the green car logo that appears above. As they put it in their site under their discussion: Green Investment, Green Cars: "It is undoubtedly one of the most exciting “green” sectors with a promising future." Hmm.

Finally a reminder once again that this is World Carshare month on World Streets and that we shall be digging into quite a range of key themes shaping the performance of this critical new mobility measure in the weeks that remain. Stay tuned. Get involved. "Carsharing: The Last Nail in the Coffin of Old Mobility".

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  1. The car sharing business is a step in the right direction. I'd still like to see more efficient public transport. Here in Melbourne, Australia, public transport costs over $10 for a daily ticket and the service is terrible anywhere except in the city center.

    At present it is quicker and cheaper for me to drive my car to work. Given the current state of the environment, this is a pathetic state of affairs.

  2. By Josie Garthwaite - Earth2TechTuesday, 14 July, 2009

    Zipcar CEO: Why We’re Not Going Electric Anytime Soon

    By Josie Garthwaite - Earth2Tech -

    Car-sharing startup Zipcar has long touted the environmental credentials of its service — primarily the fact that people who use the subscription-based network for renting cars by the hour tend to drive less and own fewer cars. Founded a decade ago, the company began to hit its stride when it started marketing to green-minded urbanites and college students. So why do most of Zipcar’s 6,500+ vehicles still run on gasoline?

    Last week, Zipcar announced the launch of what it calls its first EV Pod, starting with a fleet of 20 hybrids and two plug-ins (an all-electric Citroen c1 and a plug-in hybrid Prius) in London, with plans to grow the EV Pod to some 400 vehicles by 2012, with 30 percent of them being hybrid. We’ve written on GigaOM Pro (subscription only) about the potential for a network like Zipcar to help introduce electric vehicles into the mass market, since, as Zipcar CEO and Chairman Scott Griffith told us recently, “Electric cars by nature have to be connected cars.” Likewise, Zipcar’s car-sharing service is connected to a communications network so the company can keep track of vehicle location, scheduling and performance.

    So the rollout of a few plug-ins (five years after the company first deployed an all-electric Toyota Rav-4) seemed somewhat less than ambitious. And while it’s just the beginning of Zipcar’s plans for alt-fuel vehicles, don’t expect an all-electric fleet anytime soon: Griffith says we need more vehicle software and data (among other things) in order to get there.

    According to Griffith, “We’ve been out talking to everyone who’s making EVs or says they’re going to make an electric car in the near future.” He sees Zipcar as “a terrific early platform” for electric vehicles, largely because of its users’ demographic and driving habits. Griffith noted that the average trip in a Zipcar is less than 25 miles and lasts about four hours, making as much as 95 percent of all Zipcar trips short enough for first-generation electric vehicles with limited range. There’s also the scheduling element: Zipcar users are accustomed to scheduling their driving time, and unless we have an ultra fast-charging battery (or ubiquitous battery swap stations, as Better Place envisions), charging time for electric cars will have to be scheduled into daily use.

    At the same time, however, Griffith said, “We don’t want to put new barriers up at a time when car sharing is really moving into the mainstream,” and all-electric vehicles are still pretty foreign to most drivers. “That’s why we started with a converted Prius,” which can run on gasoline in addition to the electric battery.

    Zipcar has more questions about electric vehicles beyond how subscribers will react to them. Griffith said that while the sticker price of upcoming plug-in models is generally known, Zipcar still needs to gather data about the costs of maintenance, infrastructure needs and, “the opportunity cost of having the car sit for charging” before it incorporates more of the technology into its fleet. After the company collects this data it can use it to competitively introduce electric vehicles intro its fleet. Ultimately, Griffith says, it’s also going to take a lot longer than people think for electric vehicles to enter the mainstream, and won’t happen for many more years. But you can bet that when electric vehicles go mainstream, Zipcar will be among the first to go electric.

  3. A very minor point. the first hybrid in any carsharing fleet was in Carsharing Portland in 1999 - a Honda Insight (the original Insight). It may have been the first manual shift car in a carsharing fleet, as well, since that was the only way the original Insight came. Members were fascinated by it but freaked out by the "autostop " feature. They repeatedly called our Help line saying the engine had shut off and how to get it started again (answer; step on the gas).

  4. Comment about Roger from Solar Power Fact's comment: it is also quicker and cheaper to eat at MacDonalds but how often do you do that?


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