Green

Vehicle sharing service Zipcar brings plug-in hybrids on board

Zipcar, the Cambridge, Mass.-based company that allows users to rent cars online without ever speaking to an agent, has added plug-in hybrid vehicles to its San Francisco fleet. This is part of a national pilot program to increase public awarenss of new electric vehicle technology, says the service, which integrated hybrid vehicles in 2003.

Essentially, this pilot will allow one of the greenest cities in the country to test-drive the cars of the future, Zipcar executives told VentureWire. In the process, San Francisco stands to learn how these new cars may change traffic patterns, driving habits and infrastructure demands. The cars being used are all Toyota Priuses equipped with the Hymotion Plug-In Conversion Module offered by battery innovator A123 Systems. Outfitting these cars with a Hymotion L5 PCM battery is said to give them between 30 and 40 miles of electrical drive time after each charging session. A Google-sponsored test of similar cars in 2007 showed that they averaged 74 miles per gallon of gasoline.

To adapt to these new additions, the city of San Francisco has agreed to install three electric vehicle charging stations near City Hall built by locally-based Coulomb Technologies. You can find previous VentureBeat coverage of Coulomb’s innovations here.

Zipcar is backed by Benchmark Capital, Greylock Partners, Boston Community Capital and Globespan Capital Partners. Its mission has always been to reduce transit carbon emissions, first by encouraging car-sharing, and second by adopting clean technologies. Today, with 5,500 cars in 25 American cities and London, the company helps about 250,000 people swap cars on a regular basis. While there are a few fledgling efforts to compete — Hertz’s Connect by Hertz and U-Haul’s U Car Share, to name a couple — Zipcar seems to have the traction and trendy appeal solidly in its court.