Zipcar up for car-share competition as GM starts Maven

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Zipcar doesn’t view the automotive industry as a threat, even as General Motors Co. on Thursday becomes its latest competitor with the public launch of its Maven car-sharing service in Ann Arbor.

The 16-year-old Boston-based car-sharing company has about 60 vehicles in Ann Arbor available for the public to rent for as little as an hour or as long as a few days; it has had an Ann Arbor presence for a decade. Maven enters as the new kid on the block after a 16-vehicle pilot program launched at the University of Michigan last month. Starting Thursday, Maven will be available to the public and will offer about 35 GM vehicles at 20 locations by the end of April.

Both Zipcar and Maven involve customers using a phone app to request the use of a car for less than $10 an hour, depending on vehicle. The hourly rate includes gas and insurance.

While the business models are nearly identical, Zipcar thinks the two companies can coexist. Executives say Zipcar will continue to evolve and will look to strengthen its partnerships with traditional automakers.

“We feel that GM is late to the game, but again, we find it validating that more companies are recognizing the value of car sharing,” the company said in a statement. “These companies help us get closer to our vision of a world where car sharers outnumber car owners.”

Zipcar on Thursday announced it’s adopting a new “flexible service” model that allows customers to indefinitely extend their use of a vehicle. Previously, drivers had to drop off their cars at a predetermined time or face a fine.

It also allows drivers to change their destination mid-trip. Previously, they had to return the car to a specific, predetermined location.

The new features are expected to be available on Zipcar’s 150 vehicles in Michigan by the end of the year.

“We can’t sit still and have one model of service and expect to maintain our global leadership position,” Zipcar President Kaye Ceille told The Detroit News on Wednesday. “The fact we are listening to what members want and how they want to get around is probably more important than what a test with 20 cars is doing in Ann Arbor.”

Zipcar said it doesn’t think GM will take away from its business.

“The auto manufacturers are really good partners of ours,” Ceille said. “The fact that they’re testing different models in and around the world is a testament to how the world will continue to evolve and the need for us to partner even more.”

Zipcar has partnerships with Ford Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. at various college campuses across the country, Ceille said.

Maven is GM’s latest venture in the mobility space. GM also offers Maven+, previously called Let’s Drive NYC, at select apartment buildings in New York. It will expand the service to Chicago this year through a partnership with Magellan Development Group. By the end of the year, GM said the service will be available to more than 5,000 people.

GM earlier this year announced it’s investing $500 million in ride-sharing service Lyft, but wanted to explore the car-sharing space.

“There’s a lot we’re going to be learning about our users,” said GM spokeswoman Annalisa Bluhm. “That’s one thing you can’t necessarily outsource. There’s something to be said for being at the forefront of innovation.”

Maven initially will be available only in Ann Arbor, but GM expects to expand the service to other cities as early as this summer, Bluhm said.

GM hopes the quality of its vehicles, lack of a sign-up fee and ability to travel out of state will encourage customers to choose Maven over Zipcar.

“Google was the new kid on the block, too,” Bluhm said. “But now no one remembers Netscape.”