Why Electric Cars and Car Clubs Are an Ideal Match. Maybe.

zipcar plug-in prius photo

Image credit: Toyota

The early sales success of the Nissan Leaf is a sure sign that there is strong demand for real electric cars. But, as the recent field trials of the Mini E in England show, barriers still exist. Most notably upfront costs, and concerns about range. Luckily there is a solution already at hand for many urban drivers. The dramatic rise of car clubs and collaborative consumption, and the simultaneous emergence of real electric cars, could just prove to be a case of perfect synchronicity. Then again, it could not. Among the many objections voiced by skeptics of electrified personal transportation, upfront cost and insufficient range seem to be the most prominent. But, for drivers in cities at least, both of these issues would be significantly reduced, even eliminated, through access to electric vehicles (EVs) through car sharing services like Zipcar.

Sharing the Big Upfront Costs
After all, the whole rational behind car clubs is to make car use more economically viable for folks who don't need to use a car on a daily basis. Instead, the concept allows the expensive upfront and ongoing maintenance costs to be shared among a greater number of users, and for drivers to then pay according to how much they actually use a vehicle. Because the relative costs of owning an EV are much more upfront, compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, and then significantly cheaper ongoing running costs (and maintenance), the appeal of spreading the initial hit among a larger number of users is undeniable. Of course reducing the number of cars on the road would also counteract EV critics who claim the environmental impact of batteries make them a false solution.

Eliminating Range Anxiety
Add to that the fact that range anxiety should be almost eliminated—users could always opt for a regular gasoline, diesel and/or hybrid car if there is any chance they could run out of juice—and you start to see some real synergies. (The risk of being an "early adopter" of a technology that may or may not become mainstream is also shared across the whole membership, rather than individual households.)

EV Car Sharing Begins to Emerge
There are tentative signs that EVs may be rolling into the car share world. Hertz, which is going after Zipcar aggressively, is adding Nissan Leaf's to its fleet, and Zipcar has been trialling plug-in Priuses for some time and, according to Boston.com, is also testing all-electric cars too.

Barriers to Adoption
But there are drawbacks to early adoption for car clubs too. While the need to return car share cars to specific spots should facilitate the installation of charging infrastructure in theory, the time taken to charge could mean cars are unavailable if heavily used. Add to that the fact that car clubs are still a relatively new concept, and there is concern that would-be car sharers would be put off if the EVs they end up with do not live up to their needs. (That's why Zipcar's CEO said back in 2009 that EVs would not be a big part of the fleet any time soon.)

More on Car Sharing and Electric Vehicles
Hertz Going After Zipcar Aggressively
Better Than a Test Drive: Hertz Adding Nissan Leaf's to Fleet
Zipcar Trialling Plug-in Prius
4000+ Nissan Leaf's Sold in USA

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