Car-share company Zipcar and Ford have a deal to put 1,000 Focus compact sedans into its hourly rental fleets on 250 U.S. campuses, including those of Columbia College, DePaul University, Loyola University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Chicago and Northwestern University
“Because of Chicago’s large number of universities and urban transportation habits, the city is a key target for this initiative,” said Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman Megan Whatman.
The program gives Ford access to young potential car buyers who might not otherwise try a Ford. It also lets Zipcar, which went public this spring, piggyback on Ford’s growing image as a tech-savvy automaker.
“The technology in the new Fords looks more like an Android or iPhone,” says Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith. He says Zipcar members are “early adopters, always on Facebook and other networks, always carrying smartphones — the MyFord Touch and Sync technology, they’ll want to test it,” thus boosting Zipcar rentals.
Cambridge, Mass.-based Zipcar has 605,000 members, known as “zipsters,” and a worldwide rental fleet of about 9,000. It’s the biggest U.S. car-share service; college rentals are about 10 percent of its business.
Ford and Zipcar both are exploiting students’ ambivalence about, even sometimes hostility toward, cars.
“They live their lives as much on the Internet highway as we did on the paved highway,” Griffith says.
Even so, “As much as you want to be socially networked, you’ve still got to have groceries. You have to go somewhere to buy your Kraft dinners in bulk,” says Zipcar expert Mary-Beth Kellenberger, global aftermarket research manager at Frost & Sullivan.
And that makes it a good deal for Ford, putting its cars in front of young people, most of whom have yet to own a first car but likely will before too long.
“The No.1 reason people leave Zipcar is to buy a car,” says Bill Ford, Ford Motor chairman. He says that purchase is “heavily influenced by their Zipcar experience.”
Griffith says the 1,000 Fords will become about half of Zipcar’s 250-campus college fleet, leaving 20-some rival vehicles splitting the other half.
The Focuses, as well as a few Ford Escape SUVs, will arrive immediately for the fall semester.
Ford also will help discount Focus and Escape rentals, making them $7.50 an hour (including fuel and insurance) instead of Zipcar’s usual $8.50. And the first 100,000 new Zipcar members will get their annual membership for $20 instead of the usual $30.
“It will drive some marketing buzz,” Griffith says. “Students are savvy; they like to go for a deal.”