The car that rents by the minute…

In the plush interior of the Arch Automotive showroom in Camana Bay, I push a button on my smartphone and a map lights up with four ‘Zun’ icons, indicating the location of available vehicles.

I find one within a few minutes’ walk and hit reserve. A timer on the app pops up giving me 15 minutes to get to the vehicle and start my journey.

I locate the car easily enough; a white Audi A3 with the multicoloured Zun logo emblazoned on the side. Two more taps of the smartphone and the doors unlock, and I am behind the wheel, edging into the midday traffic.

From there, the rest is simple. I take the vehicle across town to a lunch meeting on West Bay Road and drop it back nearly two hours later. I tap once more to end the journey; the car locks automatically and a receipt pops up to inform me that my account has been charged $32 for the trip.

This is Zun – a new collaboration between Arch Automotive and Dart Labs.

What’s the big idea?

The aim of Zun is to give people who carpool, walk or cycle to work, some of the benefits of vehicle ownership without the expense.

It stems, in part, from a previous pilot project on carpooling trialled by Dart Labs – the company’s internal innovation unit. While participants were willing and able to get to work without a personal vehicle, they were reluctant to give up the flexibility of having their car available throughout the day.

The Zun app allows you to reserve, unlock and pay for your car.
The Zun app allows you to reserve, unlock and pay for your car.

Zun gets round that problem by making sharable vehicles readily accessible to members so last-minute lunch meetings or dentist appointments are still an option for those who commute without a car.

The aim, says Craig Arch of Arch Automotive, is to see how it works on a small scale, initially using six vehicles across three locations at Camana Bay and at Regatta Business Park.

Arch, who began his career as a tyre changer more than half-a-century ago, said he was excited by the technological changes in the automotive industry.

He said the aim of Zun was not financial gain but to help make a difference with the traffic problems plaguing Cayman.

Still no business wants to lose money and part of the reason for the soft launch – Zun started with four cars and recently added two more – is to test the concept in a manageable way.

“We are crunching the numbers and seeing if it is scalable,” he said.

Arch envisions it could increase to a pool of 50 or more cars with locations all over the island, making it a viable option for hundreds more residents.

That is sometime in the future, however.

Paul Henry, whose mission with Dart Labs is to road test ideas in the real-world environment, cautions that there is inherent uncertainty in breaking new ground in business – particularly with a concept where the primary motive is to change ingrained habits.

“Innovation is not easy because you are not exploiting a supply-and-demand phenomenon,” he said.

The goal is less about profit and more about changing the way people move to create a greener society, less reliant on cars.

But it can’t work, if it doesn’t make money.

“Ultimately everything is still subject to the laws of business and what we are doing has to have value,” says Henry.

So far the feedback has been good. The service is well used by Camana Bay office workers and corporations are starting to employ it as an alternative to company vehicles.

What happens next is a discussion that will take place over the coming months.

“We will see how it goes,” said Arch.

Either way, he says, he is committed to the concept.

“I’m not in it to get rich. I am committed to making this work.”

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