Suzuki Motor Co. of Japan, maker of many things small and wonderful, announced recently that it has begun producing a car specifically for car sharing services. Intended for use in the growing Japanese market, the car, a variant of Suzuki’s Swift, is a car-sharing-specific model that has an integrated automated system that keeps track of cars among several users.
Car-sharing companies all have some sort of on board authenticator that checks the validity of the user, tracks mileage, etc. For most companies, the technology must be retrofitted as an external device on each vehicle, but in the case of the new Swift, Suzuki has built this device into the vehicle directly. The car-sharing company just has to purchase the vehicle, and their specific car-sharing needs are ready to go.
Although intended for the growing Japanese car sharing market, at the moment, there is no reason why a North American variant couldn’t be produced for use by Zipcar and other regional car-sharing services. (It looks like it’s already appearing in Singapore.) Given the growing popularity of car sharing in major urban areas of North America, it would seem to be a good business opportunity.
It is not all sweetness and light in the car-sharing world however. It would seem that Zipcar’s profitability isn’t where it should be. Why not, you ask? It’s the same problem that is eating into profits at a number of businesses these days: High fuel costs.
Since Zipcar, like many other car-sharing companies, has an all-in-one pricing structure (starting at $11 per hour or $77 per day, with gas, insurance and parking included) it’s understandable what effect fuel price fluctuations would have. If Zipcar et al. were to raise their prices with a big enough fudge factor to compensate for fuel price fluctuations, costs to the user might rise too high, and memebrship would drop … too low, and they don’t make enough money (the situation Zipcar is finding itself in currently).