Zipcar, Flexcar merger means expansion

Two of the country’s largest car-sharing companies, Zipcar and Flexcar, announced Wednesday they would be merging, as officials with both companies promised more widespread service in the Bay Area and nationwide after the two combine forces.

The new company will take on the Zipcar name and install existing Zipcar technology into Flexcar vehicles. Combined, the new Zipcar will have approximately 180,000 members.

The merger, which went into effect at midnight Wednesday, could mean faster consumer rewards in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., since those are the only two cities in which both companies operated, company chairman and CEO Scott Griffith said.

Massachusetts-based Zipcar was founded in 1999 with the goal of providing an urban car-sharing service that, as Griffith put it, “makes getting a car as easy as getting cash from an ATM.”

Seattle-based Flexcar was also founded in 1999 on the same principles and has expanded to major cities in addition to San Francisco that include Portland, Ore., Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Cars are parked in neighborhoods that are tougher to park in or near offices — many lots are located in downtown San Francisco, Griffith said. People can sign up online for the service, which typically costs $9 per hour of car use. A patented card allows access to the vehicle and only one card works at a time.

“In a relatively short period, one technology will be available so members of both companies in San Francisco will be able to use the entire fleet,” Griffith said.

Since all cars in the new company will be configured with existing Zipcar technology, existing members of Flexcar will be briefed on the new protocol for reserving a car and using the technology, Flexcar spokesman John Williams said.

Part of the appeal of joining forces was to combat increasing moves on the part of major car rental companies to make inroads into this market that, though it started as one, isn’t quite “niche” any longer, Williams said.

There is currently very little overlap between the two companies and officials with both saw a merger as the easiest “just add water” approach to growing into new areas, Williams said.

tramroop@examiner.com

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