The significance of the Zipcar/Flexcar merger

Last week, Ford Motor Company sold their Land Rover and Jaguar lines to Indian Automaker Tata Motors, in the news lately for their plans to introduce the Nano: An ultra-cheap, small, fuel-efficient car in India and other developing countries. Most transportation writers noted the development, and the implications for American automaker Ford and their renewed focus on their signature name brand.

But Washington Post transportation columnist Warren Brown framed the move against the merger of carsharing giants Flexcar and Zipcar, finalized just last week:

His thoughts:

But it is also important to point out that Ford’s deal with Tata, expected to be finalized by the end of the quarter, is not nearly as significant as something else that occurred last week: the merger of Zipcar and Flexcar, the nation’s leading urban car-sharing providers.

The Zipcar-Flexcar deal, which could help reduce the number of cars and trucks crowding America’s roads while simultaneously boosting the fuel efficiency of the vehicles using them, points to the future of the automobile industry. The resale of Jaguar and Land Rover is in many ways a continuation of the past, the purchase of prestige stemming from an age when fuel was plentiful and relatively cheap, when luxury meant the exclusion of most things practical, when horsepower ruled.

In short, here’s betting that Tata will have more success with its super-cheap, super-efficient Nano city car and that automobile’s future derivatives than it will have with keeping fuel-consumptive Jaguars and Land Rovers afloat in an era of $100-per-barrel and higher oil costs.

Carsharing is just one powerful tool for making urban and metropolitan places more sustainable and pleasant. It aids those who continue to drive their own cars, use carsharing exclusively, or use transit, their own two feet, a bike, or other modes. Every Zipcar on the road represents 20 vehicles removed from the roadway, resulting in less space needed for parking, making roads less congested, air less polluted, streets more livable, and our cities better places to live.

When implemented in conjunction with a plan to reduce the numbers of single-occupant vehicle trips through investments in transit, pedestrian and bike facilities, and thoughtful land use policies, carsharing can become a powerful tool to provide people with a tenable middle ground between car-ownership (or dependence); and carlessness.

Related: thoughts about the merger from the initial announcement in October of 2007.