Zipcar was an answer for customers who want to rent a car for a few hours in their home city, rather than for a few days from a traditional rental agency. Car reservations were for a specific pick up time and location around the city, often in neighborhoods so the customers need only to walk to pick up their reserved car. Customers applied for a Zipcard, which enabled them to reserve a car online and unlock their car when they arrive at the car’s location.
The company operated with a very small staff compared to traditional rental agencies. Very little human interaction was required between the customer and Zipcar for a transaction. A customer reserved a car online, entered into the reserved car by waving the RFID-enabled Zipcard against the card reader mounted behind the windshield on the driver side, returned the car to the same location, and was billed on the credit card already on file. The customer could check all rental records and print receipts from the online reservation system. The system also had a color-coded time chart showing availability and location of all rental cars in the vicinity. This transparent information exchange allows a customer to pick the car he or she wants, if available, or delay the reservation until the car was returned by another customer. Zipcar also created and installed a GPS-enabled wireless device in each car, which allowed members to find and reserve a nearest vehicle using a cell phone.
All the cars were outfitted with patented wireless technology. Their proprietary IT platform carried information flow between customers, vehicles, and the company. It was used to monitor car security, fulfill reservations, record hourly usage, and maintain mileage information. It also relayed vital technical information such as battery voltage and fuel level. It even informed the central system if a customer forgot to turn...