Collaborative consumption is due to hit SXSW with a bang (expect it to be one of the biggest developing trends) – and it’s continuing to influence the business models of many new start-ups in the digital space.

Today however, there’s news of an example that ropes in another trend we’re seeing develop – socially enhanced automotive apps and offerings.

Not only has Wheelz, a college campus-based service that matches car owners with borrowers, raised $13.7m in funding – but it’s been given that by Zipcar.

For those not in the know, Zipcar itself is a car-lending company, but one that uses a traditional model in which the company owns fleets of cars that are rented out to customers.

Zipcar CEO Scott Griffith said P2P is likely to: “expand the total addressable market for car sharing,” and that investors could expect Zipcar to explore offering its own “mobility services” in a similar vein.

But not only does Wheelz allow Zipcar to effectively play with and test the water from a P2P sharing perspective (GM Motors has a similar service called RelayRides, while a raft of other services exist). The investment also provides access to a pool of talent that have natural social and community-driven skills that specifically relevant to the automotive sector.

Just like Groupon is doing (somewhat maniacally) at the moment, buying-in to employee resource is a smart move. But Zipcar’s doing it wisely, just giving Wheelz some money to do its own thing  and standing back, instead of trampling on the company’s potential growth.

Even a brief glance at Wheelz’s website shows how integrated the community aspect is to the business, ‘community buzz’ is a prominent section that shows feedback from users, social media links are clearly dotted around the navigation, and refer a friend deals look genuinely intriguing.

Hotwire PR’s ‘Ten Driving Forces in Digital Marketing’ report identified the integration of social media into the automotive industry as one of the key trends in 2012.

Peter Sigrist, director at Hotwire’s digital agency 33 Digital said that an array of niche sectors are already showing signs of maturity in 2012.

Social networks are floating, traditional corporations are adopting increasingly leading edge technologies to engage with customers. And with Zipcar investing in Wheelz, we’re seeing signs that collaborative consumption – seen as the future as recently as two years ago – has become a mainstream mode of consumption. I expect to see a lot more consolidation ahead.”

Earlier this month Ford launched a new tool that allows its US dealers to display real time inventory information through their own social media profiles, and YouTube made a splash about two new automotive channels – while eBay integrated visual search into its Motors app.

In the UK, lift-sharing company Carpooling recently launched iPhone and iPad apps in February last year and more recently unveiled Facebook and Android versions.

Carpooling product manager Abi Moore said the company has an active social media community, including 80,000 Facebook fans and 4,000 Twitter followers, which she says contributres heavily to its success.

Anytime someone adds a lift they have the option to post it on their Facebook wall or tweet it with the click of a button. We also recognise not everyone wants to do this, so it is user initiated.”