Zipcar in 2010: The pedestrian's car company may go public

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Zipcar, the U.S.-based car-sharing service, recently announced its intention to launch an initial public offering of its shares sometime in 2010.

The company opened its first office in Boston in 2000 and merged with rival Flexcar in 2007. Its operations currently cover 49 U.S. cities, as well as Vancouver, Toronto, and London.

Update: The company is now saying that it has no definite plans to go public.

In some ways, Zipcar's rising popularity reflects the growing relevance of public transportation. The car company's customers are, almost by definition, carless; in all likelihood, most use the service to augment public transportation.

As rising gas prices and declining wages have combined to make car ownership unattractive, Zipcar has become the world's largest car-sharing service, with 275,000 customers using 6,000 cars.

Over the last year, Zipcar reported sales of $120 million, and CEO Scott Griffith has stated that he expects sales to exceed $1 billion within a decade. Part of this strategy will, no doubt, be the company's forthcoming partnership with iPhone. The new Zipcar app enables users to locate the nearest available zipcars, browse their features, reserve them, and get directions to them. Effectively, the Zipcar app can turn an iPhone into a car key.

Given that Zipcar's customers are self-selected pedestrians, the company consistently positions its products toward a "green" perspective. It is currently working on a program to promote plug-in hybrids in its San Francisco fleet, and all of its cars are fuel efficient. This is, in part, a self-serving move: given that Zipcar covers gas, cleaning, and insurance on its cars, it is naturally inclined to fill the fleet with fuel sippers.

Unfortunately, this also means that Zipcar doesn't use American-made automobiles. While the options highlighted on the company's site include Toyota Tacoma trucks, Cooper Minis, BMW Bottellas, and Priuses, there is nary a Ford or GM to be found. Part of this is undoubtedly due to the fuel conservation issue, it also seems likely that the higher cost of American cars is a concern.

As the company expands its operations over the next few years, it will be interesting to see if it can merge its embrace of technology with a domestic car industry that is increasingly scrambling to find salvation. Given Detroit's need for business -- especially fleet business -- it seems like Zipcar could find the big three very eager to deal.

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