temporarily curbed use of the 2010 Prius and the 2009-2010 Matrix, which are staples at many car-sharing services that businesses, college students and urban dwellers use instead of owning a vehicle. At Cambridge, Mass.-based
, which operates in more than 50 cities and across more than 100 college campuses in North America and the U.K., the Matrix comprises 5% of the fleet, while the Prius accounts for 1%. Since
recalled cars for problems related to floor mats, gas pedals and brakes, Zipcar has repaired 97% of the Toyotas in its fleet, with the remainder coming out of the shop this week.
"Our fleet team has worked really hard to get our members back up and running," says Zipcar spokeswoman Nancy Scott. "We've been communicating back and forth with our members every step of the way, worked with the universities to make sure we pulled the vehicles and followed the Toyota guidelines to a T."
Other services have taken the same course. Chicago-based
temporarily removed two recalled Prius models and four recalled Matrix hatchbacks from the road for repair. Toronto-based
briefly pulled 30 Matrix models and two Priuses and the St. Paul, Minn., sharing firm
sending its two Priuses to the lifts. That may not seem like much, but in cities like Philadelphia, where the municipal government reduced its fleet by 330 cars in exchange for contracts with
and Zipcar, a broader recall could crimp civic affairs.
With Zipcar making up 97% of Washington, D.C.'s municipal fleet as well, the company says it's monitoring the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration's investigations into floor mat-related recalls of Toyota models within its fleet. Zipcar still offers Toyota's Tacoma pickup truck, but the company has removed its recalled mats.
"We're following the official process on the Tacoma," Scott says. "They're still in the fleet, but if we need to pull them from the fleet, we'll do exactly the same as we did with the Matrix and the Prius."
The recalls came at a crucial time for car-sharing companies, which are facing more competition from traditional rental companies like
( HTX) and
. With most car sharing companies and cooperatives in North America only a decade old or less, the Toyota recalls presented a challenge to their business model and an opportunity to showcase their strengths.
Zipcar's Scott notes that, while Toyota owners had to handle recalls and repairs themselves, the company's members were able to switch from Prius and Matrix models to
Civic and Insight hybrids or
Imprezas. As Toyota works to fix its mess, car-sharing companies might walk away from this wreck unscathed.
"We are fortunate that none of our Toyota vehicles have been affected by the recall to date," says Annie Bourdon, executive director of CarShare Vermont. "Surprisingly, we have not received any inquiries from our members about the recall and its impact on our service."
-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.