Upbeat prospects for car-sharing were underlined this week when car hire giant Avis purchased Zipcar for almost $500m. The analysts at Frost & Sullivan have been following the burgeoning car-sharing sector and, in this article, put the latest deal in context.

In a study conducted by Frost & Sullivan on the car-sharing market in 2011, we tracked abnormal growth in the number of cars being sold to car sharing fleets and a rapid rise in membership in these car-sharing clubs. In 2009, there were less than 1 million members in car-sharing clubs in Europe and North America combined. Frost & Sullivan expects about 15 Million car-sharing members North America alone by 2020. And the mature vehicle leasing and rental industry is trying to reinvent itself by entering/launching new mobility solutions such as car-sharing and integrated mobility.

Spread over 250 college and university campuses, as well as in cities with high population densities, Zipcar holds about 60 percent market share of membership in North America. Its acquisition of leading car-sharing operators in Europe such as Streetcar in UK, Avancar in Spain and car-sharing.at in Austria makes it one of the global leaders in the car-sharing space. The acquisition of Zipcar is a best buy for Avis, as it gives an entry into the cash/operations intensive industry of car-sharing. Both its close competitors, Hertz and Enterprise, are already present in this industry. Although Hertz built its Hertz On Demand car-sharing service from scratch since 2008, Enterprise followed the inorganic mode by acquiring Philly CarShare, WeCar and Mint cars On-Demand.

For rental companies, car-sharing is a natural extension to its current product offerings. Avis can also leverage the Zipcar’s IT mobility platform to enable rentals using smartphones and bring that technology to its traditional business of car rentals and, in turn, have more rental pick up and drops flexibility in big cities, as opposed to owning expensive real estate space. Zipcar also has its leg in the peer-to-peer (P2P) car-sharing space with its investment in Wheelz in early 2012. So it gives a diversified entry for Avis in the entire car-sharing market.

Car-sharing is a cash-intensive business. The car-sharing business is not profitable until it reaches critical mass. It is therefore vital to obtain external funding from investors or governments for new programs to take off. In a resent customer survey conducted by Frost & Sullivan about the voice of customer analysis for car-sharing, demand among non-members revealed that about 61 percent of the interested respondents prefer to access cars stationed at a walking distance and majority of them consider a walking distance not be longer than 11 to 20 minutes, so it needs to put in pods in a denser manner. Hence this acquisition is also ‘a win’ for Zipcar and for it’s vital expansion plans as well as to optimize the existing location with that of Avis’s and access to a much broader customer base. It also would give access to the corporate clients of Avis to offer corporate car-sharing. Currently about 13 percent of car-sharing members are corporate customers and this is expected to account for over 25 percent by 2020. It can also take Zipcar to other denser global cities by using the existing Avis infrastructure.

Given that Frost & Sullivan estimates a market of 26 million members globally by 2020, up from around 2.3 million today, this is a good purchase for Avis who so far has struggled getting into new business models for mobility compared to its competitors. Car rental companies need to move away from their brick and mortar business into virtual and flexible vehicle rentals, something that Zipcar provides.

Over 40 percent of Zipcar’s members have given up ownership of their personal vehicles. We noticed that for every car that went into a car-sharing club, about 7 to 9 cars were removed from the streets. From the same Voice of Customer connected by car-sharing, it is understood that about 40 percent of car owners with one car will consider possibly selling their vehicle after becoming a member of the car-sharing service. More importantly, business travellers want to have an integrated service available throughout a country-wide offering. This is the reason why we can also see even the car companies like BMW, Daimler and VW having entered into the car-sharing space making it more competitive.

What was most interesting is the valuation of Zipcar, global leader in car sharing, when it went for an IPO in April 2011. At the time of the IPO, the company, founded in 2000, owned under 9000 vehicles, mostly compact and medium cars in the U.S. and was valued at U.S. $174 million. The share value on Zipcar’s first day of trading surged by almost 75 percent to U.S. $31 per share, boosting the valuation of the company of around $1.2 billion, about U.S. $133k per vehicle. The company does not rent a fleet of Ferraris, but the investment community does seem to see it that way. Now in 2013, Zipcar has been bought for $500 million by Avis and Avis is paying $12.25 per share for Zipcar, almost 50 percent more than the shares were trading at in the end of 2012, and almost 2.5 times of its launch price.

By Frost & Sullivan Partner Sarwant Singh and Automotive & Transportation Consultant Mohamed Mubarak

See also: ANALYSIS: OEMs to grab car sharing opportunity in cities