graphic of an self driving Zipcar
December 8, 2015

The Future of Car Sharing with Autonomous Wheels

In the past year, we’ve seen an acceleration in the number (and variety) of companies committing to develop a self-driving car, advances in the technology itself, and an ever shortening window of time before the vehicles are expected to be on our streets.

At Zipcar, we’ve always envisioned a world where car sharers outnumber car owners, and we believe that the broad adoption of autonomous vehicles will be what turns that vision into a reality. The onset of self-driving cars will usher in a new era of mobility-as-a-service. Exciting times, for sure.

In this vision of the future, smart, efficient and connected vehicles will whisk you where you need to go, when you need to go there. Perhaps some trips will be shared; others could be in a luxury vehicle for date night; still another could be a hatchback for hauling groceries. The point is, a multitude of specialty vehicles will enable you to pick the right vehicle for the trip.

In such an environment, the need to own a single vehicle goes away. Ownership gives way to access. For Zipsters who have been with us for any part of the last 15 years, this has been a way of life already. So it’s not a stretch for them to imagine the shared use, self-driving networks of the future.

But there’s definitely still more to come. Self-driving cars deployed in the Zipcar platform will enable us to deliver even better on our core promise of “wheels when you want them.” Literally. Today, you reserve a Zipcar and pick it up; tomorrow, you reserve it and it picks you up. Today, with our expanding ONE>WAY option, you can pick up a Zipcar in one location and drop it off in another location; tomorrow, it will pick you up in one location and drop you off in another.

At Zipcar, we’ve always envisioned a world where car sharers outnumber car owners, and we believe that the broad adoption of autonomous vehicles will be what turns that vision into a reality.

How will this affect cities in the future? New car models on the road, with new models for accessing them, will heavily reshape the way we live and travel. That’s okay with us. (Disrupting the status quo with smarter transportation is kind of our thing.) Thanks to Zipcar’s technology platform, nearly one million members in many of the world’s most congested cities, and our work with vehicle manufacturers, cities, transit agencies and municipalities, we are set to play a leading role in advancing a network of shared, self-driving vehicles.

We are preparing for this shift in transportation by continuously innovating across all aspects of our business. In the past year alone, we began deploying new car share models, such as our ONE>WAY service. We established ZipLabs, an R&D environment where our best and brightest are able to work on innovations to make sure we are set up for the future. We acquired a small technology company on the West Coast and added some remarkably talented mechanical engineers to our already talented team who are redefining mobility service and vehicle telematics. And we joined forces with the University of Michigan Mobility Transformation Center, a collaborative organization working on smart cities and autonomous cars.

While no one can really predict exactly when self-driving cars will hit the roads, and how truly autonomous they will be when they do, one thing is true: it’s no longer a question of “if” but “when.” And when that time comes, we’ll be in the driver’s seat. (Hmmm. We may have to consider retiring that metaphor soon.)

Kaye Ceille is the President of Zipcar and a leader in transportation innovation.