It’s 8.45 PM. The phone connection is patchy. Zoomcar CEO Greg Moran’s voice crackles irritably through the static. But despite the disturbance, his assertion is crystal clear. 

“Ownership is a dead model in India. All the metrics point to the fact,” he states.

It isn’t just cars, adds Moran. “It’s two-wheelers and bicycles, too. Modern mobility is about access, and affordability is the gold mine,” he says. At the time, we were discussing the rise of e-scooters and hybrid cycles in urban India.

Moran’s conviction—that vehicle ownership patterns have changed for good—is now the bedrock of his six-year-old mobility business. Indeed, sales of passenger vehicles have dipped to their lowest in nearly eight years, shuttering dealerships and forcing auto manufacturers to curtail production.

Even without the sales downturn, only 22 Indians out of every thousand own a car. In the United Kingdom, this figure stands at a healthy 850 owners per thousand people, meaning India’s car ownership market has plenty of headroom for growth. 

Softbank's Stables

Softbank has taken a shine to futuristic mobility solutions. Other than the ride-hailing companies in its portfolio, Softbank has also invested in self-drive rental models like Getaround, Shine and Fair in the US. Closer home, Ola's going to launch its own car rental and leasing business with the $500 million Softbank has invested in it

Moran and his co-founder David Back entered this anaemic market in 2013 with India’s first car rental model. They thought it strange that Indians who weren’t buying cars weren’t renting them either. Moran and Back were starry-eyed about the opportunity and, according to some early reports about their fledgeling start-up Zoomcar, wanted to capture 60% of the rental market within a few years. 

Fast forward six years and Zoomcar is a leader of a market it helped create: short-term weekend rentals for millennials who can’t/won’t buy an expensive car yet. This segment is a complex one—only a tiny sliver of the populace can afford to pay Rs 90 per hour to rent an SUV. 

Nevertheless, Zoomcar’s rental model blazed a trail for similar start-ups—Drivezy, Revv, Myles—to set up shop. According to information sourced from Tofler, Zoomcar’s revenues have grown steadily from Rs 2.3 crore ($334,000) in 2014 to Rs 158 crore ($22.9 million) in 2018. 

Happy ending? Hardly.

Zoomcar was a golden opportunity to bridge the unpredictable ride-hailing market and the stagnant ownership market. But Moran’s ambitions, say former members of Zoomcar’s leadership team, didn’t end at leading the weekend rental market. If ownership patterns were changing globally, Moran wanted a fatter slice of the pie. 

There’s nothing wrong with a startup diversifying its portfolio.


Olina Banerji

Based in Delhi, Olina writes about mega-trends in urban mobility, education, skilling and the environment, with a focus on how institutions and innovations can help cities grow sustainably. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics, and has worked previously with India Today and global non-profit Ashoka.

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