GreenCar Hawaii wants to help consumers save money and the planet. Motivated by the success of such car sharing services as the Steve Case-funded Zipcar and the nonprofit City Carshare, GreenCar Hawaii offers hourly car rentals to Hawaii vacationers at an all-inclusive hourly rate of $15, or a day rate of $95-115. In addition to being more flexible than a typical car rental service, CarShare uses only hybrid and all-electric vehicles so you can feel good about yourself as you tool around the islands.
Launched in 2010 by Justin MacNaughton and Warren Doi, GreenCar began with a small pilot program on Kauai, worked the kinks out, and have just expanded to Waikiki as they continue to grow. They received a ton of early press coverage, both locally and nationally, from Pacific Business News and Star-Advertiser to CNN and Fast Company, but have been relatively quiet since their Kauai pilot. Now, with the opening of their first Oahu outlet at the DoubleTree by Hilton Alana Waikiki Hotel, GreenCar hopes to turn a portion of Oahu’s 5 million annual visitors (and maybe some locals) into customers.
“It’s like a Zipcar for hotel and timeshare properties, but fully on-demand,” said MacNaughton when we recently spoke. “There’s no membership required for GreenCar. It’s truly a transient-based service model, and the strongest value proposition is the convenience factor.”
When you go on vacation, renting a car is typically one of the most expensive components of the trip, after flights and hotel. But when you start adding in the other costs of renting a car—fuel (currently hovering in the $3.90-4.00 per-gallon range) and parking ($20-40 per day at Waikiki hotels)—the cost skyrockets. Consider further that the typical vacationer probably lets their rental car sit idle for a few of their vacation days, which is just wasted money. For vacationers, GreenCar provides a great alternative to paying $70 or more per day for a rental car, then another $25 for the privilege of letting it sit in the hotel’s garage as they lounge at the beach or stroll Kalakaua Avenue.
“The guest profile in Waikiki versus Kauai is very different,” said MacNaughton. “On Kauai, vacationers spend 70-80% of their time at the resort, so their rental car is idle and unused. They are paying for the car and parking, essentially wasting that money. On Oahu, most Waikiki guests have not rented a car. About 70% of visitors on neighbor islands rent a car, but Waikiki is the inverse. And the Oahu market is much, much larger, but there’s a lot more competition: trolleys, bikes, car rentals, The Bus, etc. What GreenCar offers them is access to mobility on-demand.”
Green vs. Convenient
“Mobility on-demand?” That’s an interesting concept, and an interesting tagline for a company named “GreenCar.” MacNaughton gets philosophical when asked about whether they are selling convenience or planet-saving transportation, looking towards the day where eco-friendly is the norm rather than something that you need to proactively market.
“On-demand mobility by the hour is our product and that is what we are building,” said MacNaughton. “But GreenCar is the name because our products will all be green energy vehicles. Convenience trumps everything else.”
It’s refreshing to see that the average consumer is starting to look at an eco-friendly service as the “what we want” rather than the “what we aspire to.”
GreenCar, which also offers a shuttle service on Kauai, is working with hotels to cater to VIPs and frequent-stay guests. Using the green angle has helped their high-end hotel partners better cater to the affluent, who are willing to pay extra for eco-friendly services, but still have high service-level expectations.
“Hotels can provide a better service for their guests,” said MacNaughton. “They don’t need a rental car, but they know that they have access to GreenCar vehicles.”
The company’s Kauai rental and shuttle fleet is made up of Ford Escape Hybrids and Chevy Tahoe Hybrids, while their Waikiki fleet is 100% all-electric, using Nissan’s Leaf.
GreenCar also has a decidedly tech angle to their service, allowing customers to reserve cars either online, over the phone, or via innovative kiosks located in hotel lobbies. Through their system, customers can make a reservation via one of those three points, grab a voucher at the kiosk, then have a valet bring their car around. It saves time and gives GreenCar a neat, visible marketing tool in typically high-traffic areas.
Keeping it local, GreenCar used Honolulu’s Ikayzo design and software development firm to build out the technology behind their kiosks and iPad app.
Starting-up in Hawaii
The GreenCar team is definitely one of Hawaii’s standout startups. They’ve already raised two seed rounds with mostly mainland, but some local, angels, with each round well into the six-figures. Since both founders have local roots—Doi was born and raised in Hawaii, as was MacNaughton’s father—their support from the local community has been very positive.
“The beauty is that Hawaii is such a tight-knit group,” said MacNaughton. “It only takes a few access points to gain access to the market or advice or support.”
But, even though they may have utilized their local networks as they started GreenCar, MacNaughton feels that they would have had the same experience without their Hawaii cred. While this contrasts with a lot of the general feedback from mainlanders or transplants trying to build startups in Hawaii, MacNaughton said that, “access (to support and resources) seems relatively easy compared to San Francisco or Chicago or New York City. People in Hawaii are very receptive to startups or people looking to get involved (in the economy).”
Again, while those without local connections might disagree, it’s great to hear that GreenCar has had such a welcome reception. It’s important for issues such as these to be discussed openly, but it’s even more important for startups like GreenCar to see such a high level of support from local businesses, investors, and support services.
GreenCar’s expansion to Waikiki is paving the way for additional growth. They are expected to launch with a third partner on Kauai before the end of the year, and are working on partnerships with traditional rental car companies and travel service providers.
But while their target customer is currently vacationers, MacNaughton sees GreenCar as more than just a service for tourists. Waikiki is obviously a hospitality hub, but GreenCar is also very aware of Waikiki’s residential density and the success of the traditional car-sharing services. With such a focus these days on climate change, oil dependency, and state sustainability, every car taken off of our roads helps Hawaii’s fight each of those areas, not to mention traffic, maintenance, parking, and every other dollar that goes in to owning a car.
MacNaughton mentioned an industry statistic that claims an elimination of 8 to 12 vehicles for every single shared vehicle placed into a market. Although that may be a bit optimistic, even if a single shared car takes the place of only two cars, this type of service is moving us in the right direction.