Zipcar Snaps Up UK Car-sharing Network Streetcar

Zipcar has bought London-based car-sharing firm Streetcar in its latest bid to expand across Europe, the companies announced this morning. The acquisition, valued at about $50 million, expands the size of Zipcar’s UK fleet more than fourfold, to 1,770 vehicles.

Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith called the deal — which comes on the heels of an investment in Spanish car-sharing startup Avancar — a key step toward making the company a “truly global” car-sharing network, which rents vehicles by the hour or day.

Streetcar, founded in 2004, has vehicles in 1,100 locations in eight cities. Zipcar and Streetcar combined have about 400,000 members, up from Zipcar’s base of 360,000 drivers.

In addition to expanding Zipcar’s footprint, acquiring Streetcar comes with an opportunity to also make that footprint a little greener. Griffith said in a call this morning that the company’s “been testing” the plug-in electric vehicles in Streetcar’s fleet.

Already, Griffith said hybrid vehicles (primarily the Toyota (s tm) Prius) typically make up 10-15 percent of Zipcar’s fleet. And in July 2009, 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.

But don’t expect Zipcar to switch the bulk of the fleet over to plug-ins anytime soon. Griffith has told us that more vehicle software and data (among other things) will be needed in order to get there. “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, he said in an interview last year.

Today’s acquisition comes more than two years after Zipcar absorbed its largest competitor: Seattle-based Flexcar, owned by AOL (s aol) Co-founder Steve Case. The merger resulted in a company with 180,000 subscribers and more than 5,000 vehicles in 48 cities.

At 10 years old, Zipcar has discussed plans to seek an initial public offering since at least last year, and Griffith said today that equity in Zipcar made up the “primary consideration” in the  $50 million deal with Streetcar. Last summer, while Zipcar said it had “no immediate plans to go public,” it was reported to be targeting an IPO for 2010.

Photo courtesy of Zipcar

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