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Zipcar's never-ending European vacation

Wednesday - 7/11/2012, 11:20am  ET

Zipcar apparently isn't afraid of Europe's treacherous roadways.

The leading car-sharing service is acquiring Denzel Mobility CarSharing, the parent company of CarSharing.at in Austria.

Terms of the deal aren't being released in this morning's announcement, but CarSharing.at isn't very big by Zipcar standards. The company's fleet consists of merely 200 cars being shared by its 10,000 members. It won't necessarily move the speedometer needle at a company with 9,000 cars and more than 700,000 Zipsters on board.

However, this is the third opportunistic European vacation for Zipcar. It raised its stake in Spain's Avancar to a controlling stake back in February, and it snapped up the United Kingdom's Streetcar before that.

This is a globally fragmented niche, and it's easy to see Zipcar snapping up fledgling upstarts and enhancing their operations through its technology and expertise.

Things are definitely heating up closer to home. Traditional car rental agencies Enterprise and Hertz have been emphasizing their consumer-facing car- sharing services, and Avis has been working car-sharing magic for its corporate fleets.

Even individual automakers are trying to ape the Zipcar model, making cars available -- gasoline and insurance included -- for infrequent drivers looking to save some serious money over traditional car ownership. BMW just introduced its DriveNow service in San Francisco, and General Motors wowed the market when it moved to let all OnStar-equipped cars seamlessly participate in peer-to-peer leader RelayRides' program.

Ford , figuring that it's easier to work with Zipcar than against it, struck a deal last year that placed hundreds of Ford cars into Zipcar's campus car-sharing plan.

Zipcar is obviously not losing sight of its home turf, especially in its four original metropolitan cities that continue to grow with widening profit margins. However, there's a whole world of drivers out there, and Zipcar will continue to find small companies in promising overseas markets that are eyeing exit strategies.

It's the smart thing to do when looking at the road ahead instead of the rearview mirror.

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This article was originally published as Zipcar's Never-Ending European Vacationon Fool.com

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