Under the Microscope: We talk to Jonathan Hampson, ZipCar's UK general manager
30 January 2018
Author: Sean Keywood
Sean Keywood talks to Zipcar's UK general manager, Jonathan Hampson, about the car sharing firm's plan to take the hassle out of inner-city business travel.
It's not news that running a car in a city can be complicated and expensive, with issues such as congestion charges and a lack of parking spaces to contend with. On top of that, inner-city businesses are often much better served by public transport than those elsewhere, meaning that staff making journeys have viable alternatives to driving. With this in mind, does it really make sense for these businesses to run a full-time fleet. If they were instead able to use a car sharing service, with staff just jumping into a car as and when they needed it, and the cost and hassle of running the cars taken care of by someone else, would that be a better solution?
Jonathan Hampson, general manager of Zipcar UK, believes an increasing number of firms will soon be answering "yes" to that question. They won't be alone, as Zipcar, which has a UK fleet of 2,500 vehicles, is already being used by more than 10,000 businesses in London. With a presence also in Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, Maidstone, Edinburgh and Glasgow, Hampson says the firm has seen strong growth, with people now more willing to consider car sharing than ever before.
Speaking to granitekitchen at the firm's office in central London, Hampson says car sharing has started to break into the mainstream. "I think a lot of it is because people are starting to get used to the sharing economy and it's just become far more accepted that you don't need to own things to have the benefit of them," he says.
"I think the other reason is because it's becoming increasingly difficult to own a car in the city, whether it be increasingly expensive congestion charging or parking permits - everything is really going against the private car owner."
"There's huge, huge thirst for electrification among our stakeholders."
Hampson says Zipcar has taken advantage of what he calls a "fairly miserable experience" for city-based car owners. "From our perspective, if we can put out a service that says you can have all the benefits of being able to use a car when you need one, without that cost and hassle, then that's going to be compelling, and that's exactly what we're seeing," he explains.
Hampson admits that Zipcar first started with a focus on consumers, but says it didn't take the firm long to realise that what it was offering made sense for a lot of business users, too.
"I think the largest area for us is SMEs, small businesses that don't want to be tied into their own vehicles, or into long rental agreements and things like that, but still want to have a vehicle from time to time.
"Using Zipcar to meet those needs on an incredibly flexible basis is a really powerful thing for them."
Hampson says that for these businesses, car sharing can save a lot of money.
"We can be a resource that they can scale up or scale down, and in doing so we can be very cost advantageous for them.
"We can offer an alternative to running their own fleet, a fixed asset that they need to maintain and look after, that depreciates heavily, and there's all the admin that goes along with that.
"If they can say, 'Actually, we'll just use Zipcar for our fleet when we need it, those vehicles are there anyway, they'll look after all those things that are a hassle, we can scale it up or scale it down, exactly as we need it,' that's a very beneficial thing for businesses, particularly smaller ones that really don't want to be tied into long agreements or large costs, but do really value that flexibility."
Zipcar offers a dedicated business service, with features including online account management overseeing multiple drivers, and dedicated fleet solutions for businesses nationally, from SMEs to larger corporates, as well as fleet management solutions through its Local Motion system.
Fuelled for the future
One advantage drivers might have with Zipcar over a conventional fleet is the knowledge that the vehicle they're driving will always be new or almost new, with cars replaced after about 15 months. Hampson explains that this allows the company to continually provide drivers with the latest technology, and also allows a quick reaction to market trends. One notable recent example is the backlash from cities against diesel cars, which are now gone from the Zipcar fleet.
Hampson says Zipcar initially incorporated diesel after feedback from London boroughs and other city authorities.
"When we first started, most of them were focused on CO2 and they were saying the best way to have the lowest possible CO2 emissions is to go diesel, so that's what we did," he says.
When cities then turned against diesel, Hampson says Zipcar was able to respond rapidly.
"As soon as the policymaking started to shift, we could move very, very
"We said 'We're going to take diesel out of our car fleet,' and it was probably early 2017 when we came out of diesel entirely."
With diesel gone, Zipcar's car fleet is now mostly petrol. However, 50 plug-in hybrid Volkswagen Golfs have been introduced in London, and Hampson identifies these as the first wave of a big area of expansion for the company in 2018. It expects growing user demand for electrification, which it intends to meet.
Hampson says, "There's huge, huge thirst for electrification among our stakeholders and for us, it's just about how quickly can we deliver on that.
"We really think that 2018 is going to be a breakthrough year for us, in terms of making a material impact on the number of electric vehicles (EVs) in London and the number of people being exposed to EV driving, so we're really excited about our elecrtification plans for this year.
"EVs have been around for many years, but it feels like we're getting to a tipping point, and I think 2018 will be a really significant year in that regard."
Hampson says that electrification can further increase the environmental benefits that he feels car sharing already offers.
"We absolutely believe that car sharing itself comes with numerous benefits, in terms of people driving less, fewer cars on the road, better air quality. But if we can achieve that behaviour change with the cleanest possible vehicle, that's what we want to do, so we absolutely want to lead the way in this area."
One way forward
Alongside electrification, Hampson says another focus for 2018 for Zipcar will be developing its Flex service, which launched last year. It allows drivers to make one-way trips, without having to return the car to where it was when they started.
"Take-up of Flex has been really strong. Consumers and businesses have responded exactly as we thought they would - it's been a really popular service," he says.
"When we first started in 2004, and I joined not long after that, we had members saying they'd love the ability to do one-way trips.
"Being able to deliver on that has been very challenging because London is made up of 33 different authorities, so trying to allow people to pick up a car in one authority and drop it off in another is fraught with challenge, but we finally got to a point where we can start to
At the moment, Flex covers about two thirds of inner London, but Hampson says the company wants to roll the system out to the rest of inner London during 2018.
Looking to the future more generally, Hampson says he expects the growth in car sharing to continue, as the conditions that have driven its growth so far become more prevalent.
"As more people come into cities and space becomes more constrained, I think cities will say that private car ownership is not an efficient use of space, and therefore car sharing will continue to grow," he says.
"London is the most obvious case, but I think in all UK cities, you'll start to see car sharing grow in the future as more people move into those cities."