Car-Sharing: The Gateway Drug to the Web-Sharing Economy

Car-sharing is the gateway drug of the growing trend of using the web to help people share “stuff.” According to a report from research firm Latitude called The Sharing Economy, people who try out car-sharing services are more likely to join in other web-based sharing services, and car sharers share significantly more across categories (living space, food, goods, information and media, etc.) than non-car sharers.

The results indicate that car-sharing has been a key catalyst for spreading the business model of using the web and social networks to share physical things. Basically it seems like after you get used to sharing a car, your attitude toward ownership in general starts changing.

Car-sharing has been so successful because cars are infrequently used and expensive items, and by joining a car-sharing service, members with the appropriate driving habits can save money. As the Latitude study puts it, cars have traditionally had a “high barrier to ownership or a high burden of ownership.” Latitude says that 69 percent of those surveyed said that they’d be more interested in sharing their stuff if they could make money from it.

Already, Zipcar, a decade old startup with the country’s largest car-sharing network, has a fleet of 7,000 vehicles and more than 400,000 members, and is planning an IPO. According to forecasts from research firm Frost & Sullivan, the number of drivers using car-sharing networks increased 117 percent between 2007 and 2009 in North America. Within five years, the firm expects to see 4.4 million people in North America and 5.5 million people in Europe (where Zipcar hopes to expand its presence beyond London) sign up for car-sharing programs, more than tripling membership from 2009.

Latitude says with this growth in mind, emerging “sharing enterprises would do well to seek partnerships with car-sharing and like services, seek out users of other sharing services as new customers, and begin offering other items to share once established in a category.” In other words: piggyback on or buddy up with car-sharing services, if you want to find the like-minded early adopters.

In a world where there will be an estimated 9 billion people on the planet by 2050 — more than 2 billion than there are today — largely with population growth happening in cities, sharing resources and vehicles will be one of the only sustainable answers. Particularly sharing of cars will be needed when the planet is also facing a shift to a new era of constrained resources, where the traditional way we generate energy is increasingly unsustainable. More efficient use of cars will lead to less oil consumption.

So, woo-hoo for car-sharing! The gateway drug of the web-sharing economy is catalyzing collaborative consumption.

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