Each vehicle in the Zipcar Inc. or car2go car-sharing fleet means 32 lost vehicle sales, according to a report from consulting firm AlixPartners.
The report, based on a survey of 2,000 adult car-sharing customers, also said Americans would have bought 500,000 new or used vehicles since 2006 if not for access to car-sharing services, a total that could grow to 1.2 million by 2020.
"I think this will have a bigger impact on the market than [automakers] think," said Mark Wakefield, AlixPartners managing partner, in an interview Tuesday.
As car sharing expands, the number of drivers using the services will grow rapidly, with 4 million Americans regularly using car sharing by 2020, up from fewer than 1 million today, the report said.
"Lower costs and lower hassle is driving adoption, not environmentalism or fads," Wakefield said. "So this should not be seen as a fad."
The average car-sharing service has about 66 members for each car in its fleet, the report said, and that is expected to grow to 81 members per car in 2020. About 48 percent of people who regularly use car sharing end up not buying or selling a car, the report said.
For the report, AlixPartners, of suburban Detroit, surveyed car-sharing customers in 10 major cities in which car-sharing companies have gained a solid foothold: Chicago, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, San Diego, Boston, Portland, Ore.; and Austin, Texas.
Wakefield said the expansion of car sharing appears limited mainly to affluent, urban areas near universities, but a potential game changer is on the horizon: the self-driving car.
"The automated car could really be the 'killer app' for car sharing," Wakefield said. "It could be what really blows up the model to escape well beyond what people are looking at today."
Vehicles on demand
Companies such as Enterprise Holdings and City CarShare are anticipating such a future.
Lee Broughton, head of sustainability at car-rental company Enterprise, told Automotive News last year that he foresees a scenario in which instead of shopping at a grocery store, consumers could order products online and have autonomous Enterprise vehicles deliver the goods.
City CarShare, a car-sharing service with more than 220 locations mainly in Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif., is anticipating autonomous cars and the ability they would offer to rental services.
"The ultimate way of sharing is to have vehicles that are on demand. Because the idea at least is they could move along with one person or act as virtual buses and things like that," City CarShare CEO Rick Hutchinson told Automotive News last year. "It's huge. I don't think it's 30 or 40 years, I think we'll see it much sooner."
Vince Bond Jr. contributed to this report.