Zipcar CEO Details In-Car Assistant, Personalized Deals And Member Onboarding For Mobile App

At the CTIA MobileCon keynote today, Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith took the stage to talk about the effect mobile technology is having on transportation. In the course of his talk, he also detailed the way that Zipcar has shifted from being a web-based business to being an overwhelmingly mobile concern, and what new changes were on the way for its app and mobile services.

On the roadmap for Zipcar’s smartphone app are changes to the way consumers use it, expanding its function to more of an in-car assistant. Griffith said that Zipcar is creating its own in-car device holder, so that users can plug in and have their devices ready to use hands-free for navigation, damage reporting and more. Planned feature additions include the ability to use your device’s built-in iTunes playlist with the car through an iPhone interface, a so-called “digital co-pilot” that provides pertinent info about the specific vehicle you’ve rented and your surroundings, and more.

There are also features planned for improved pre- and post-trip feedback, including damage  and car condition (gas levels, cleanliness, etc.) reporting and feedback from the car in question including fuel levels (all of which is actually borrowed from competitor Car2Go). Some possibilities for down the road include the ability to send texts to valet parking services that support Zipcar in areas like metro NYC, so that cars can be ready when people get there to start their reservations.

New users will also be able to on-board via the app, taking photos of their driver’s license and receiving approval “within minutes,” according to Griffith. That’s a far cry from the original system, which actually involved new members coming into the office to pick up their new physical membership cards. Moving the registration process to mobile, and making it something people can do very quickly, is a big step towards a mobile-focused future for Zipcar.

One very interesting detail shared by Griffith is that Zipcar intends to build out a personalized deal recommendation service, which would alert users to Zipcar-specific member benefits and offers nearby while they’re on their trip. This could provide another revenue opportunity for Zipcar, in addition to rentals and its FastFleet car sharing backend. It’ll be interesting to see whether these offers are opt-in, opt-out or dependent on membership level, should the make it past the testing phase to the public-facing product.

Many of these things are developments that wouldn’t have been possible 18 months ago, Griffith said, which is what’s both exciting and challenging about the way mobile tech has affected things like car sharing.

“Future generations will make their mobility decisions on much narrower timeframes, probably by the trip,” Griffith said on stage. “We’ll see a very different urban landscape all because of the connected car.”

He envisions a future where people plan trips based on what will get them to their destination fastest, using a combination of things like Zipcar, Lyft, bike sharing and public transit. That’ll lead to a shift, he says, for the auto industry, one that’s “as important as the invention of the auto itself.”