Not so long ago, car-sharing was routinely dismissed by carmakers as a thing that silly San Franciscans might do, but real Americans wouldn't.

But that view is changing, fast. In August, Ford said it would provide 1,000 cars to Zipcar over two years, largely as a way to get college-age drivers and 20-somethings behind the wheel of its Focus compact and Escape small crossover products.

It was an acknowledgement that Zipcar [NSDQ:ZIP], with its efforts to place cars on or near college campuses, provides students the option of cars when they need them--and has attracted an user base of young future buyers that all automakers crave.

While questions remain over the long-term business viability of car-sharing services, that didn't prevent a successful initial public offering by Zipcar this past April.

And Zipcar is staying on the cutting edge by offering plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles to drivers who expect many parts of their lives to be increasingly green.

Now, a recent article in HuffingtonPost underscores the rush of large automakers and rental companies into the car sharing arena.

And it offers up a provocative conclusion: "For the new generation, Zipcar may be the new iconic car brand."

Zipcar's Scott Griffith and Toyota's Frank Miller with a Toyota Prius PHV

Zipcar's Scott Griffith and Toyota's Frank Miller with a Toyota Prius PHV

In general, while urban 20-somethings are increasingly amenable to using car-share services rather than owning their own cars, that tends to end once they move to more suburban areas--especially if they start a family.

We're intrigued by the notion that newer drivers feel less affinity toward car brands, and more toward car services.

In our experience, there's definitely a cachet to Zipcar (and perhaps other car sharing services). We've heard city dwellers say, "I'm getting a Zipcar for the weekend," treating it as a brand in a way that traditional automakers and rental companies--Hertz, Avis, and the rest--can only dream of.

So tell us, in the age of increasingly informed consumers, are car brands really relevant these days?

What would lead you to consider using car sharing services--perhaps for a type of vehicle you only use once or twice a year?

And, IS Zipcar now a car brand?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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