The founders of easyJet and Lastminute.com announce their latest scheme, which could make some serious money.
One of the beauties of the internet is that its direct communication increasingly allows us to bypass the middlemen -- be that buying products direct from manufacturers worldwide and avoiding several layers of markups, lending and borrowing between individuals with the likes of Zopa, or setting your own gambling odds with companies like Betfair (LSE: BET).
But how about people renting each others' cars? Does that sound like a cost-efficient way to more fully utilise otherwise idle vehicles, or is it just mad?
easyCar, the next generation
Whatever you think, it's what those two well-known entrepreneurs, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou and Brent Hoberman, are planning.
Sir Stelios, the founder of easyJet (LSE: EZJ), and Mr Hoberman, co-founder of Lastminute.com, are, it seems, set to relaunch the car rental firm easyCar. In addition to the conventional business model of just owning and renting out little orange cars, the new scheme, which will be trialled in London early next year, will allow people to book their neighbours' vehicles by the hour via their smartphones.
In the word of Sir Stelios, "Rather than having to buy the cars to be rented and pay the ownership costs, this business model relies on the fact that there are plenty of under-used cars on the road already, and that is lazy capital that can be put to work again."
Is such car-sharing set to become a new way to maximise the use of resources? Well, a similar US company, Zipcar (NASDAQ: ZIP.US), is already there. Zipcar car-sharers (or "Zipsters" as they are apparently known) can book and pay by the hour using their mobile phones or their Zipcards.
With there already being an estimated 10 million drivers claimed to be living within a 10-minute walk of a Zipcar vehicle, the service apparently cuts average driving costs by around $7,000 a year.
The number of Zipsters currently stands at only around 8,200 across 15 US cities and 230 universities, so there's clearly great potential for growth if it takes off as its management believes it will (and it's possibly a good punt for growth share investors).
And it does suggest that easyCar might be on to a good thing too -- as long as members don't have to repaint their cars the same colour as David Dickinson.
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