Emily Badger  |  theatlanticcities.com

This Zipcar research suggests that what holds the whole thing together is self-interest, not community – and certainly not ideals about the environment, consumerism or sharing. Granted, Bardhi and Eckhardt gathered their findings among young, urban professionals and students in Boston. And so maybe Zipcar drivers in Minnesota feel and behave differently (as might members of other “collaborative consumption” models like AirBnB). But by studying Zipcar’s target demographic, Bardhi and Eckhardt’s research offers a curious glimpse into the minds (and cars) of Millennials we may be misunderstanding.

One of the most telling findings of the paper, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, is that just about everyone Bardhi and Eckhardt interviewed hopes to one day own their own car. In the meantime, they feel no sense of shared ownership over Zipcars. They aren’t particularly connected to each other and don’t want to be. And they view Zipcar itself as the enforcer that keeps other drivers from screwing them over, not as the facilitator of a community.

This is all despite Zipcar’s best efforts to build exactly that, a community. Zipcar organizes local events, hosts message boards, encourages drivers to collectively name vehicles, and to wave at one another as their Mini Moxies and Miss Daisey’s pass each other on the road. {…}