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Zipcar going head-to-head with Vancouver co-op Add to ...

Zipcar Inc., the Boston-based car-sharing company that has already gained a foothold in Toronto, is setting up shop today in Vancouver.

While Zipcar competes in Toronto against private operator AutoShare, on the West Coast it will be up against Co-operative Auto Network (CAN), a not-for-profit co-op that has a loyal following among environmentally conscious Vancouverites.

CAN has a fleet of about 150 cars in Vancouver, while Zipcar says it will have more than 100 on the streets.

Car-sharing members book vehicles for use by the hour, returning them to designated parking spots when finished. The setup is ideal for a city dweller who doesn't need a car to commute, but wants a vehicle occasionally for a quick trip to IKEA or a grocery binge. There are no worries about insurance, maintenance, or the price of gas.

While most car-sharing organizations in smaller cities are co-ops, some big companies have jumped into the game. Zipcar is the biggest, with 2,500 cars in half a dozen North American cities and London.

Vancouver was a natural choice for expansion, Zipcar chief executive officer Scott Griffith said yesterday. "It seemed to us that Vancouver looked a lot like Boston and San Francisco in terms of its size, market potential, the demographics and even the psychographics -- the sort of green bias and environmental focus of a lot of the residents of the city."

CAN will likely hang on to its loyal base of clients, Mr. Griffith said, but Zipcar will expand the size and potential of the market with its "more sophisticated business focus" and fully automated reservation and smart-card billing system.

Zipcar's pricing model is substantially different from CAN's, which costs $500 to join, has monthly fees, a $2 hourly rate, and a per-kilometre fee. In Vancouver, Zipcar will cost $80 to join and there are no per-kilometre fees, but hourly rates are higher, at $8.30 and up.

Mr. Griffiths said Zipcar, which is a private company, is spending more than $2-million on the Vancouver launch. The Toronto operation, which began about a year ago and now has about 160 cars, is not yet profitable but is on target to be in the black later this year, he said.

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