Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Zoomcar's anniversary and updates from founders

Bangalore’s favorite pure-play self-drive car rental company has turned One this week. Zoom has been extremely successful with almost all their cars getting fully booked for the weekends. Starting from one location and few cars, today Zoom has expanded its presence to close to a dozen locations in Bangalore and the fleet size has increased close to 50, with 6 different types of cars on offer. 
Before zoom, it was so difficult for me to arrange a car on self-drive rental. Had to make multiple calls and emails to different agencies to check quotes, get queries clarified and eventually make a booking. With only few agencies offering self-drive rental, who never had the self-drive part of their business in focus, the options were limited and I was at the mercy of these operators. Zoom’s aggressive pricing, brilliant & practical website and easy process soon increased awareness about self-drive options and people came out to try it out. They loved the experience and came back again.

Once year later, Zoom now has strong customer base, large fleet and great expansion plans. I met with the Zoom’s founders- David Back and Greg Moran in their Bangalore office last weekend. They had just returned from Delhi exploring auto expo 2014 and mind full of ideas to expand and grow. Both Greg and David are from US and have made Bengaluru their home, working out of a modest office and realizing their start up dream. During our brief interaction, I learnt many things. Some of them have been shared below for your reference.
Greg Moran and David Back
  • Zoom is looking to expand to more Indian cities this year-Probably Mumbai and Hyderabad. I was told that Chennai is not in their immediate  focus, due to limited no of outstation destinations from Chennai.
  • Several automotive companies are chasing Zoom, asking that their vehicles be added to Zoom fleet. Zoom has plenty of options in front of them, from Tata Nano to BMW Mini. We need to wait and watch which ones get inducted and when. For them to add a car to the fleet, it should get consistent bookings to be able to recover the investments. Some cars may get first time curious customers who come to try the car, but if they lie idle due to impracticality or high pricing, it will be a loss making proposition. 
  • Zoom had outsourced website and app work, but now has a in house team for the purpose. Website has undergone lots of refinements over time and more changes can be expected in future, including a fresh app.
  • I proposed value added services like being able to pick up in one location and drop off in another, having vehicles delivered to and collected from our home/office instead of we going to their locations. But these features cause lots of inventory management problems. Till the time proper technology support from backend is available, such features will have to wait.
  • If you didn’t know, Zoom has many week day offers. Lady members can rent cars on Tuesdays for a whopping 85% off (that is, a BMW 320d for Rs 1300 a day, figo for Rs 400 a day). As such weekdays command 40% discount over weekend tariff. They are forced to turn away lots of customers on the weekend due to more demand than supply.
  • There have been few incidents like customer escalating that "he was never told to bring Driving License". Now zoom has refined the process to make terms and conditions very loud and clear so that people read them and understand, instead of blindly clicking ‘I accept’ without reading and then complaining that they weren’t aware of it. Further, carrying valid driving license is a standard practice/requirement world-wide.
  • I used to complain ‘Why do you buy 3 BMW 320d? Why not one Audi A4 and One Benz C class?’. But for a fleet operator, having different OEMs or even different colours and variants for that matter can be a maintenance nightmare. Imagine someone booking a red car and getting blue car and the customer making a fuss on social media that he/she didn’t get the car with the colour he/she had booked!  Having different variants also causes similar concern and hampers uniformity of the zoom experience. So I have to contain my Audi and Benz dreams for now L
  • Zoom had a top speed limit of 110kmph. It was a bit painful to drive a BMW at 110kmph while even hatchbacks overtake you at much higher speed. (Tata Nano twist touches 115kmph) I was told that this speed limit has now been increased to 125kmph. I didn’t knew this when I drove BMW 2 weeks ago. How can I recover that missed 15kmph?
  • Zoom is the only agency in India as of now from where you can rent a BMW or Ford Ecosport on self-drive. I am taking their Ecosport for a ride this weekend.

If more and more people decide against buying cars and rent cars on need basis, it will help a lot to ease traffic and save fuel. Most of the car owners drive solo to work and back 5 days a week. Imagine how much space will be left on the road even if 10% of those cars are freed. Where possible use public transport or buses for city commutes and rent cars when needed. Do read my other post where I compared the cost of owning a car vs renting one. If you still want the convenience of a car, buy a small car for city use and avoid buying SUVs unless you’ve full time use for them. If you need an SUV for weekend trips, rent them. (Read my article: Side effects of buying an SUV)