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Ford Partners With Zipcar to Reach College Students?

Zipcar and Ford
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Zipcar and Ford

Ford and Zipcar are going back to school.

Both companies are hoping their new partnership elevates their exposure to college-age drivers, a segment of the population that is often overlooked but ripe with potential.

Here's the partnership: Ford will provide Zipcar with 1,000 models over the next two years and help differ some of the membership fee and rental charge for members of the Zipcar university program.

So what's in it for these two companies?

For Ford the deal gives it increased exposure to college-age drivers. Think of it as getting the opportunity to give thousands of 18-24 year olds an extended test drive. Ford Chairman Bill Ford says, "What we are really going to be doing is getting some feedback from them (college-age Zipcar members) in terms of what they like, what don't they like, what we can do differently. So we'd like them to make a lifelong process of thinking about the Ford Motor Company."

For Zipcar, the deal helps further expand its university program.

The car share company is already on 250 campus' and the university program is one segment where Zipcar hopes to grow its business.

Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith calls it a welcome shot in the arm saying, "This is a very important step for us because when these students leave the schools they tend to move to major urban operations where they take their first or second job and we have cars there too. So for us this is big brand exposure."

Most of the Ford models will be the fully loaded Focus. While Ford and Zipcar are playing up the fuel efficiency of the small car as a selling point, I suspect the bigger deal for college car share users will be that they are driving a Focus with the latest technology. I'm not sure the college-age Zipcar member renting the car for a three or four hours is terribly concerned about fuel economy as much as they are making sure the car gives them the ride they want. In other words, it better not be a worn-out, run of the mill car. So in that regard, adding new top of the line Focus models is a smart move.

But ultimately, this is a question of whether the exposure these two companies are getting will translate into more business down the road. Zipcar will benefit by further developing its university program. The company believes many of its members on college campuses will move to cities after graduation and instead of buying a new car, will continue to car share. Considering Zipcar is already the market leader in the car sharing business, this brand extension could pay off.

Will the increased exposure help Ford drive future sales? That's hard to say. I'm not sure how many of the Zipcar members in the university program will buy a Ford for the first car because they drove one from time to time in college. But extended test drives, which is really what this will be for Ford, should definitely help improve the brand consideration among younger buyers. Ultimately, I think a big part of why people buy their first car is the monthly payment, the annual cost of operating it, and finally the styling. Those are the factors that will drive future sales. Still, for Ford and Zipcar, going back to school is a smart partnership that could pay off.

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___________________________ Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.comand Follow me on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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