BY LINDA BAKER
A couple of months ago, my 15 year-old daughter and I took a car2go to Costco, earning us the distinction, I'm sure, of being among the first Costco customers to take a very very small car with virtually no trunk space on a major food shopping expedition. But the family car was out of commission and my daughter was determined to stock up on institution-size boxes of Cheerios and six packs of applesauce.
She was also determined to try out car2go, the zippy blue and white Smart Cars that have become a fixture in the Portland urban landscape. Once on the road, my daughter was in heaven. She snapped multiple pictures of herself in various poses and posted them to Instagram. "Me, in a car2go."
Since launching in Portland on March 31st, car2go, a car-sharing service, has racked up 6,000 members, who collectively, use the service 5,000 times a week, according to company spokesperson Katie Stafford. The service attracts a broad cross section of urban dwellers: young professionals, families, college students.
Part of the appeal is the business model. Car2go lets you hop in a car and go anywhere, anytime, without having to return the car to a specific location.
But as the mother of a teen not even old enough to drive, I can't help but think car2go's success is as much about the marketing, the branding, and the logo as the business model. "Look, it's a car2go," sings out my daughter everytime we pass one of the Smart Cars with its ubiqutious logo plastered on the car.
According to Stafford, the car2go name was selected "because it easily defines our service."
"We give people a car to go -- anywhere, anytime. We wanted the cars to be easily identifiable so that no matter where you travel, in any car2go city worldwide, you are using the same car and having the same experience."
The name also connotes speed, efficiency--qualities that appeal to the impatient youth of today. Like the Smart Car itself, car2go is hip; it's cool. And like McDonalds, the Gap, et al, car2go is everywhere, perfect for a generation reared on ubiquitous brands.
Car2go's brand strategy bears some relation to the BoltBus phenomenon, the Greyhound-alternative intercity bus service launched in Portland a few months ago.
To be sure, there are some real differences bewteen traditional Greyhound service and BoltBus. The latter doesn't make any stops between Portland and Seattle, offers (occasionally) cheaper tickets and makes quick curbside pick ups and drop offs on major downtown streets instead of compelling customers to wait in line at stand alone bus terminals.
Still, a bus is a bus. Like Greyhound, the BoltBus travels on I-5. Like Greyhound, the BoltBus gets stuck in traffic.
Despite these realities, BoltBus appears to be all the rage. "We anticipated the service would be would be successful and it's exceeded our expectations," said spokesperson Maureen Richmond. The service primarily attracts young professionals, she said. It's also caught the attention of young people, many of them whom have never hopped aboard Greyhound.
What's so great about the BoltBus, I asked my 17 year-old son, who will be taking his third ride in a month--he who has only ridden Greyhound once in his entire life.
He looked at me impatiently. "Mother, it's the Bolt Bus."
Oh, I see.
Like car2go, BoltBus connotes speed and efficiency. Although those qualities appeal to any age group, the BoltBus message seems clear: out with the slow, the pondering (and the old). In with the fast, the new (and the young).
Car2go and BoltBus are new transportation models aimed at changing the behavior of urban and inter city commuters. That their marketing schemes have caught the eye of the youth of today suggests something about the values of a new generation and the marketing schemes it takes to attract them.
By the way: my daughter didn't post pictures of car2go to her Facebook page. At least for teens, she says, that particular social networking site is becoming passe.
Linda Baker is managing editor of Oregon Business.