Car sharing has become a popular alternative to traditional rentals in metropolitan areas and on college campuses, allowing members to get a vehicle for an hour or two for short trips instead of renting a car for a day or using mass transit. The segment has been growing while traditional car rentals have struggled in the current slow-growth economy.
Zipcar, which was founded in 2000, has more than 760,000 members, triple what it had in 2008. It went public in 2011 and 2012 is expected to be its first-ever profitable year. Avis Budget Group Inc. is the third-largest U.S. rental car company, behind Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Hertz Global Holdings Inc.
Manufacturing upticks slightly
WASHINGTON — U.S. manufacturing grew slightly last month and factory hiring increased. The modest gain suggests the economy entered the new year with some momentum.
The Institute for Supply Management said Wednesday that its index of manufacturing activity rose in December to 50.7. That’s up from a reading of 49.5 in November, which was the lowest reading since July 2009, one month after the recession ended.
A reading above 50 indicates growth, while a reading below signals contraction. The ISM is a trade group of purchasing managers.
Construction dips 0.3 percent
WASHINGTON — Spending on U.S. construction projects fell in November from October because a steep drop in volatile federal projects offset another gain in home building.
Construction spending dipped 0.3 percent in November, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the first decline since March and followed a 0.7 percent increase in October, which was revised lower.
Total spending declined to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $866 billion. That is 16.1 percent above a 12-year low hit in February 2011. Even with the gain, the level of spending remained only about half of what’s considered healthy.
Firm: Auto sales to be strong
DETROIT — A healthier economy and more model introductions should push U.S. auto sales above the 15 million mark this year, predicts an auto industry research firm.
The Polk research firm says auto sales should continue to lead the country’s economic recovery, rising nearly 7 percent over 2012 to 15.3 million new vehicle registrations.
Automakers release December and full-year sales for 2012 on Thursday. Analysts think sales reached 14.5 million last year, the strongest performance since 2007 — just before Americans felt the impact of the recession. Sales of more than 15 million are considered a sign of health for the auto industry and the economy, many analysts say.
Microsoft harps on Google
SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft began the new year harping on a favorite theme: The software maker is arguing that government regulators need to crackdown on Google to preserve fair competition in the Internet and smartphone markets.
The latest refrain came Wednesday in a blog post by Dave Heiner, Microsoft’s deputy general counsel. His attack amounted to a last-ditch appeal to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the European Commission as they wrap up wide-ranging investigations into Google’s business practices. Resolutions to those probes are expected early this year, perhaps within the next week at the FTC.
Microsoft fears Google, perhaps its biggest nemesis, will emerge from the antitrust probes without being required to make significant changes.