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Enterprise leaps into car-sharing

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  October 3, 2008 10:05 AM

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Enterprise said Tuesday that it was taking its car-sharing program nationwide. The announcement follows similar moves in late summer by Hertz and U-Haul, which both expanded their programs.
Enterprise's WeCar, however, differs from the others as well industry pioneer Zipcar, based in Cambridge, as its focus is exclusively on "defined-user groups'' instead of more general membership programs, according to Lisa Martini, an Enterprise spokeswoman.
Enterprise has been testing the waters with programs at Washington University in St. Louis, at the Google campus in California, and at the REI headquarters outside Seattle. WeCar, Martini says, will focus on cutting agreements with organizations, businesses, universities, even governmental agencies, to provide services.
"A big part of the idea here,'' Martini says, "is that this will appeal to, say, a business that has workers who don't want to have to drive to work or to park but may need a car during the day.'' And, she says, since each deal is negotiated separately, the program can be tailored to the individual needs of the group. "Let's say they want their people to be able to use the cars on weekends. That can be negotiated.''
Much of the way WeCar works is similar to the other car-sharing businesses. Reservations are made online and cars are unlocked with scanner cards.
Martini said that all WeCar vehicles are either hybrids or other fuel-efficient vehicles (which means at least 28 mpg).
For travelers, this is not potentially as big a deal as when Hertz jumped in. The auto rental company's initial plans call for it to roll out its program in a handful of major US cities, Rich Broome, senior vice president for corporate affairs and communications, told me in August. And Boston, he said, would "probably be part of a second wave.''

Broome was tight-lipped about other expansion plans but with its 8,100 locations in 147 countries it’s not hard to imagine that eventually customers could be able to sign up in Boston, but use car-sharing services around the nation and the world.
Martini said that Enterprise is pursuing a specific niche with WeCar, but "this has been a learning process and we wouldn't rule out other options in the future.'' She noted that, besides its defined-user contracts, the company also runs a car-sharing program that takes all comers in downtown St. Louis.
Enterprise operates more than 7,000 offices in the United States, Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Germany and is owned by the Taylor family of St. Louis, which also owns National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car.
All these developments are likely to juice up competition. Right now, the leader in the field is Zipcar, which has seen a tremendous amount of growth and has more than 225,000 members in 50 cities in North America as well as a presence in London. While the bulk of Zipcar's business comes from its car-sharing membership business it too partners with universities -- more than 120, including Harvard, MIT, Michigan, and Florida. And it has its Z2B business program, which has agreements with 8,500 clients.
Bottom line: the growing wave of car-sharing is good for consumers and not a bad thing for the environment.

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