Vrtucar founder staying with company after acquisition

Tom Pechloff
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Vrtucar founder Wilson Wood said Monday the Ottawa company’s acquisition by Montreal’s Communauto is just the latest in the “evolution” of car-sharing in Eastern Ontario.

Wilson Wood will stay with Vrtucar as "chief sharing officer" after the Ottawa business was acquired by Montreal's Communauto Jan. 11.

Mr. Wood also said that while he has sold 100 per cent of the company to Communauto for an undisclosed amount, he will remain with the company as Ottawa’s “chief sharing officer.”

“I’m very excited about it, a chance to move forward and continue doing what we’re doing in this rapidly, rapidly changing world of car-sharing,” he said. “It’s just an astoundingly exciting area and I’m just very pleased to be still in the game.”

The two firms began talking seriously about a year ago, Mr. Wood said, around the time Vrtucar was marking its 15th year in business.

But Vrtucar’s association with Communauto goes back much farther than the last year, he said.

“One of the first things I did in 1999 was go down and visit (Communauto CEO) Benoit Robert in Montreal and see what he was doing,” Mr. Wood said. Since 2010, the two firms have also had a reciprocity agreement that allows Vrtucar members to use Communauto cars in Montreal and vice versa.

Vrtucar uses Communauto reservation software and also played a role in developing it, he said.

The Vrtucar brand will also remain. Mr. Wood said Communauto doesn’t want to lose a name that has an established history and the “positive customer feedback” that goes along with it.

Vrtucar currently has 123 cars in 90 stations around Ottawa. Monday’s deal means that number will soon rise.

Mr. Wood said Vrtucar expects to grow its local presence by 10 per cent next year, adding Communauto said it wants to eventually double the current Ottawa fleet.

The acquisition will not only give Vrtucar the resources for that expansion but also access to Communauto’s one-way ride-share technology, he added.

“It’s not getting huge amount of traction at city hall, but the idea of one-way car-sharing is something that requires another type of technology that, frankly, was out of my reach just on my own,” he said.

Under the one-way ride-sharing model, members pick up a car at a station, get charged by the minute instead of hour or kilometre and are allowed to drop off the vehicle at a number of other designated areas, generally where there is on-street parking. The next member then uses an app to find the car.

If that arrangement comes to Ottawa, it won’t mean the end of the Vrtucar stations, Mr. Wood said, since some neighbourhood members have come to rely on knowing a car will always be at a specific location.

Mr. Wood said as the company grows in the capital, it will be looking for more help, mostly in fleet management.

The acquisition is the third since Communauto was founded in 1994. The company has already expanded into Halifax and Paris, France. It will now have 1,800 cars serving 50,000 members.

What Communauto is doing right now is to position itself as a consolidator player so in the future you might hear about us in other markets too," CEO Benoit Robert said in an interview.

The company is expanding its presence in Paris and is reviewing options to expand to other European cities, he added. It may also eye other deals in Canada.

Communauto faces some competition from Car2Go, which operates in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

But Mr. Robert said other car-sharing services and taxi-alternative Uber only help to increase overall demand for alternatives to car ownership.

Uber says it plans to launch its car-pooling service in Toronto on Wednesday. Uberpool will allow people to share their journey with another rider heading in the same direction, reducing the number of cars on the road and alleviating congestion.

- with files from the Canadian Press

Geographic location: Ottawa, Paris, Halifax Quebec City Montreal France Toronto Gatineau Kingston Canada Vancouver

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