Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Avis to buy Zipcar

Screen image, Iphone application for ZipcarGiven the success of car sharing in the DC-area, with Flexcar, later acquired by Zipcar, and Zipcar, plus the more recent entry of car sharing operations by Enterprise and Hertz into DC, plus the even more recent entry of the one-way car sharing service, Car2Go, DC must be a hotbed of carsharing in the U.S.

The one thing we don't have in DC is a nonprofit car sharing organization like they do in San Francisco, City Car Share, Philly Car Share in Philadelphia or  in Montreal, Communauto.  The disadvantage that nonprofit car share organizations have is having to raise capital for purchasing vehicles, especially when they have to replace the original fleet.

So that Avis, a major car rental company, is purchasing Zipcar, is quite interesting in what it communicates about car usage as an application or service (see writings on "product service systems" among other things).

See the Associated Press story, "Avis buying Zipcar in deal worth nearly $500M."  Also see "Why the 49% premium Avis paid for Zipcar is a bargain" from Quartz, "Zipcar and the Death of Entrepreneurship" from LinkedIn and "Zipcar: Entrepreneurial Genius, Public-Company Failure" from the Wall Street Journal. (Thanks to Notions Capital for the heads up on the latter articles.)

Note that while I know you can use Zipcars in other North American cities, I didn't realize that they have coverage in some UK cities including London and Barcelona through their acquisition of Avancar (press release).  And apparently the same Zipcar infrastructure works between the systems.  Of course, I've yet to test it out.

I don't think there will be many changes.  The article suggests that the Avis fleet can be used by Zipcar members during peak demand periods.  I don't expect that will happen any time soon as it will require a variety of changes to how Avis manages their cars, plus most of their car rental locations are not in those kinds of places where car share members are likely to be living.

WRT the articles by Dennis Berman about "the death of entrepreneurship," this is an issue, but not in the way that he thinks, at least not to me. The problem has to do with scale and operating in multiple cities and scales. It's a similar process to how in many markets (especially in retail and increasing in retail development, at least in the major metropolitan areas) local operators have been supplanted by national firms. In select markets that are more engaged as part of the global economy, such as the real estate market in major cities like NYC, DC, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, etc., international developers and financiers may trump even national actors.

It becomes very difficult for comparatively small companies to operate in multiple cities and get access to the necessary capital to build and expand their business. (This by the way is an issue faced by my own business, BicyclePASS. I know how we can position ourselves to be a major force nationally. Capital is a key element in our ability to expand. And patient capital--because in start up phases you lose money, you don't make money--is especially hard to find.)

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At 11:10 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

IN terms of zipcar, capital is even more critical, since every rental car businsess is, at it's heart, an arbritrage between the costs of buying cars then getting rid of them. The change you earn in the middle is just peanuts.

And given how bad pricing is across the board in the industury, I don't see this acquisition as good.

In terms of BicyclePASS, stuff like kickstarter can be useful for some projects but wary of security law. (first rule of security law - everything is a security!)

In any case, I am looking forward to infiltrating the new condo board to push for bicycle parking.

At 6:47 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

we do condo building bike parking retrofits. The sales cycle is so long because it takes forever to get a majority to agree, plus it is real money that they have to spend.

It's one reason why we try to get the buildings outfitted properly at the outset, when they are being constructed.

Unfortunately, even "best practice" regulations aren't that great, even if they are better than what they were before.

LEED-ND pushes 1 space per unit, which is much higher than anything else.

I argue for setting bike mode targets and then setting bike parking targets accordingly, based on a kind of bike opportunity zoning. Basically, you treat Downtown DC or Columbia Heights different from a suburban garden apartment complex for housing, or in terms of commercial, buildings along the I-270 corridor wouldn't have the same bike parking requirements as buildings in Downtown DC or Arlington, Bethesda, Silver Spring, etc.

At 6:52 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt Zipcar, Steven Pearlstein has a little piece today in the Post opining that this deal is about culture, that Zipcar is likely to be submerged, and the consolidation will go wrong.

Of course, I am inclined to agree. Few mergers of this type succeed over the long term (e.g., Snapple and Quaker Oats). But if Avis is smart and looks at this in terms of capital (hopefully, e.g., Bed Bath and Beyond will be doing the same wrt World Market, rather than changing it), it could work out.

Interestingly, the complaint that Pearlstein has about not retaining culture was made against Zipcar vis-a-vis its acquisition of Flexcar, which was way more cool in terms of policies (e.g., if you put in gas, you got some driving credit, etc.). We adjusted.

Of course, the dichotomy between a traditional rental car company and a car sharing company is much more significant.

The reality is that as cool as car sharing can be, it has limited opportunity to grow in the US, because most communities don't have the right conditions to support it.

It might always be a niche business, even if it becomes a relatively big business considering.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Nikola Medimorec said...

Thank you for the great blog post. Very good overview of the Zipcar-Avis news.

It's sad that large companies buy successful small companies. Even though more capital means more opportunities (and ways to expand business), I prefer a diversified economic landscape with a lot of stakeholders.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...


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