Future of Mobility Podcast: Mark Thomas Talks About COVID-19 Mobility Impact, Data Intelligence, and Business Success Factors

December 1st, 2020 | by Mark Thomas, EVP of Marketing and Alliances | Posted in: Insight on Things

Shared Mobility

Mark Thomas, VP of Marketing and Alliances, Ridecell, recently sat down with Brandon Bartneck—founder of tech podcast, Future of Mobility. The discussion centered on many different aspects of shared mobility, including Ridecell’s foundations, the business’ latest focuses, and how COVID has impacted the industry—for better and for worse.

You can listen to the podcast in full here, but we’ve rounded up some of the key takeaways below.

Toyota Sweden Partnership

Mark and Brandon’s conversation kicked off on the topic of one of Ridecell’s most recent launches—our partnership with Toyota Sweden. We previously revealed the news that Toyota had launched Kinto Share in the Swedish market—‘Kinto’ being the mobility brand, and ‘Share’ referring to the car sharing version of that mobility brand.

When quizzed on the project, Mark explained to Brandon that, like many others, Toyota was a company that was striving to launch a profitable shared mobility business model, and Ridecell was chosen to come on board and make that happen. 

Kinto Share is now offering the people of Stockholm the ability to get into new Toyota vehicles and pay by the minute, the day, the week, or the month. 

Carsharing software

“Toyota understands that, especially in the pandemic, people may want to have access to a vehicle just for themselves, for longer than the 20 minutes or hour that errands take. It’s having that ability to sign up and keep that car for a month, and all you need to do to get access to a new Toyota is to download the app, take a picture of your driving license, take a picture of yourself, and take a picture of your credit card.”

What Drives Success For A Mobility Service?

Brandon was interested in understanding more about the key aspects and considerations for building a business model such as KINTO Share by Toyota Sweden. In particular, he wanted to understand how you make a venture like that profitable.

We call it high-yield mobility, as opposed to just mobility services. The days of people putting a remote lock and unlock hardware in a car and just creating an app, and thinking they’re going to grow those days are gone.”

Mark explained three factors that are crucial to consider with regards to high-yield mobility…

1. High-quality customer experience

This is about way more than just creating an app that looks great and works. It’s about being able to predict demand and to respond to that demand accordingly. The experience should seem like magic, but it’s actually backend technology making everything run smoothly.

2. High fleet utilization

You need to have the ability to run several business models with just one fleet of cars and be savvy about that process. For instance, having the ability to use a vehicle for food delivery services at peak ordering times, ride sharing during the commuting hours, and longer periods at weekends. It’s about having a platform that’s sophisticated enough to switch things up for different use cases.

3. High-efficiency operations—Build intelligent controls from the very beginning

To make your fleet operation efficient, you need a control system that will speak to the right people at the right time. For example, your car cleaners or the drivers that move your vehicles from low-demand areas to high-demand areas. You also need to think about an automated pricing engine—for instance, to convince someone to walk a little further for a car that’s 30% off. It’s crucial to have a system that’s both coordinated and well managed.

Launching a high-yield mobility service is the difference in one that’s going to need a huge amount of IT and money to keep running, and one that self regulates and has all the things built into it to become a successful business.”

The Importance of Data 

“Data is what fuels all this. Data powers the AI and the machine learning that lets us understand for each vehicle what its likelihood is of getting rented, what are the chances it’s going to incur a cost, and then, you also have to have the mechanisms that will dispatch vehicles based on that information.”

Mark explains that the data can come from the car—if the battery is low, for example: “That info will come to you from the car, and then you can send someone there to charge it.”

Alternatively, the information can come in from the app. “If a customer gives a vehicle just two stars because it’s dirty, you have to have the ability to take that car out of service and prioritize it for cleaning.”

It’s all about using these insights in sync with the engine to help manage and optimize your operation. And that’s something Ridecell specializes in.

“One of the key ah-ha moments that we had a few years ago was that we spent considerable time building in APIs and SDKs so that our customers could take their IT department and build on top of our platform.”

For those reading who aren’t familiar with this terminology, an API is an Application Programming Interface – a type of software that lets two different applications ‘speak’ to one another. An SDK, on the other hand, is the software developers’ kit that provides the code that allows the API to work. Ultimately, it’s this intelligence that gives Ridecell customers complete flexibility. These days, Mark says, the team considers the business to be a kind of “mobility cloud.”

The Effects of COVID on Shared Mobility

Brandon quizzed Mark on the effects of the Coronavirus on the industry, citing concerns about safety and virus spread as reasons for a possible decline.

Mark explained that, while understandably, shared mobility models that involve sharing the vehicle with someone else at the same time—for example, ride sharing—have taken a huge hit, it’s just not the case for other models:

“When it comes to sharing a vehicle but not at the same time—scooters, mopeds, e-bikes, cars, etcetera, those are having a huge Renaissance. We call it shared mobility, but it’s now car sharing without the sharing part!”

Currently, what Ridecell is seeing is people keeping the vehicles for longer. They won’t just use a car for an errand, park it and let it go. They’re holding onto it – reducing the possible risk of the spread. 

It comes back to the idea of having the flexibility to reconfigure your fleet and just how important that is. Many Ridecell customers, he says, are renting vehicles out by the week and the weekend now, in addition to their by-the-minute and by-the-hour rentals offerings.

“A great example is a customer that operates in Madrid and Paris. ZITY, a brand run by Renault, was a pay-by-the-minute fleet, and now, in response to COVID, they’ve added one, two, and three-day packages.”

ZITY was launching in Paris just as COVID was shutting down the city, so the team rezoned the service area to include the nine hospitals in the Paris metropolitan area. Instead of the original launch plan, ZITY made its cars available for free to hospital staff, who were asked to prove their key worker status instead of the traditional sign-up requirements.  

As the conversation moved onto car ownership versus car usership, Mark reasoned that, once people realize that the automobile purchase process doesn’t have to be what it is today, it’ll be a gamechanger:

People would rather get a root canal than buy a car! We’re showing people that you can download an app and, within five minutes, be in a vehicle that you can keep for as long as you need. And that’s something that, when you get accustomed to it, it’s going to be very hard to go back to that old method.”

And it’s this innovation and realization that makes the shared mobility sector so exciting. As we face more of the unknown going into the back-end of 2020, Ridecell will continue to lead the way to modernization, shaping the future of the industry and the businesses that wish to be a part of it.

You can find out more about our thoughts on shared mobility during—and after—the pandemic here.

Author: Mark Thomas, VP of Marketing and Alliances, Ridecell

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