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Autonomous cars should not be privately owned, says Zipcar

Autonomous Jaguar XF

Zipcar UK’s general manager has said highly autonomous vehicles should not be privately owned in the future.

Jonathan Hampson, the UK-boss of the car sharing company, said Zipcar would adapt its business model to include autonomous vehicles and in the future and would help lead the way with the new technology.

He told AM: “For autonomous vehicles to work for cities like London they can’t be privately owned, it has to be shared ownership.

“Zipcar is the global leader with shared ownership so I think when the time comes we will definitely have a part to play with autonomous vehicles and making them available as part of our fleet.”

Hampson believes privately-owned autonomous vehicles would further congest cities with cars making individual trips rather than shared ones.

Autonomous vehicles and access to them through car clubs are likely to play a part in Mobility as a Service (MaaS) which will reduce the need for personally owned modes of transportation. It works by combining transport from public and private providers in a unified way to create and manage a trip from one account.

Hampson believes Transport for London (TfL) would have to step in as an independent party to administer MaaS services in cities in the future as companies are unlikely to share customer information unless it’s going to an unbiased third-party.

A MaaS pilot is already running in the West Midlands with 500 customers. Those involved in the trial will have access to bus, metro, rail, car hire and cycle hire all through one app on their smartphone. Other services will be added as the pilot progresses. It being delivered by a commercial provider, MaaS Global.

The potential success of MaaS raises questions about the current structure of the automotive retail market. Large dealer groups and manufacturers are already thinking about what part they will have to play in a MaaS future.

However, dealers have expressed doubt at how quickly car buyers will abandon the current ownership model and the potential for MaaS to take off with mainstream customers.

Nigel McMinn, Lookers managing director, said: “If you look at the emotional side of things, most people have an attachment to their car. They align themselves to a brand, or they want a specific model, trim or colour. It’s very personal.

“Yes you could have tiers of MaaS subscriptions that would give you guaranteed access to a premium brand, but I think those types of customers really want a specific car. A PCP offers them their own car, they can leave the dog blanket and baby seats in it, it’s sat on their drive to use whenever they want and they chose the colour and the spec down to the last detail.

“There’s nothing currently in the mass market where that I’ve seen where I think, yes, that’s the Spotify of the future for automotive. That’s not to say someone could come along and invent it.”

Zipcar has increased its car sharing fleet from 1,500 in London to 1,800 with 300 new petrol Volkswagen Polos as part of its new Flex offer.

Hampson said for every car club car, 10.5 privately owned vehicles are taken off the road as they sell them to join the service.

Flex allows customers to make one-way journeys for the first time, rather than having to do a round trip.

Zipcar hopes the new service will help to make car sharing more mainstream and has launched initially across four London boroughs - Southwark, South Lambeth, Wandsworth and Merton. Prices start from 29p a minute and can be dropped off in any designated “Zipzone” parking spot across those areas.

Carplus, the not-for- profit, environmental transport NGO, set up to promote the shared transport sector, is hoping for 1 million car club members in London by 2025.

There are currently 130,000 Zipcar members across London so reaching the overall target will require a huge push in the next few years.

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