Interviews
4 Oct 18

Fleet Manager as the New Mobility Leaders

New mobility forms are on the rise, from ride hailing to car sharing. Mark Thomas, Vice President of Marketing of Ridecell, explains how fleet managers are in the position to become the mobility leaders of tomorrow.

What is Ridecell in a nutshell?

Mark Thomas: “Ridecell provides a New Mobility Platform. We are the SaaS, we are the platform and service provider of car sharing and ride sharing and soon autonomous ride hailing solutions. Companies who want to add new mobility, are able to create this service with our solution.” 

Which new mobility services does Ridecell provides?

“By using our platform, you can use various services, from station-based car sharing, like Zipcar, and free-floating car sharing, like DriveNow and Car2Go, to car rental with daily delivery, and ride hailing, so you can run a service like Uber or Didi using our platform. 

Furthermore, you can have dedicated ‘one car picks up one person and drops them off’, or you can do pooling as well.”

Are they complementary?

“Yes! For Instance, in North America, we power DriveNow, BMW’s car sharing service, which is called ReachNow there. But, with car sharing, those cars or not used so much in the evenings, so in the evening they turn the cars into ride hailing. Eventually, when you download the app, you can press one button, which says ‘please reserve this car for me’, and you can push another button which says ‘please, come pick me up.’

Would ‘Autonomous’ change the picture?

“Once you are using autonomous vehicles to pick people up, the difference between car sharing and ride hailing goes away. Because you need elements of both kinds of technology. In car sharing, you walk up to the car and you push a button to unlock the car, so the car knows you are the right driver. With ride hailing, you would have an autonomous vehicle to pick you up. So, you would use the technology from car sharing in terms of identification, but you would also use the technology from ride hailing to tell the car where to go, or to pick up a second passenger. In fact, they merge. 

In the short term, car sharing can benefit from autonomous, because one of the problems of free-floating car sharing is that somebody drives the car, leaves it in a part of the city where there is no much usage of it. So today, you pay a person to go move the car. If that car has some autonomous technology built into it, it can safely drive itself to a better spot and park itself in the middle of the night.”

Would corporate car sharing make more sense if being done autonomous?

“The reason why companies would do it without autonomous, is because they have to understand how to do new mobility, how to do car sharing.

The companies who work with us, are the ones who realize, that the end destination is autonomous ride sharing, but if they wait until everything is ready, to launch the service, they’ll never catch up.” 

Would autonomous ride hailing be the end destination of fleet management?

“Yes! Once it becomes dramatically cheaper to have a vehicle come to you and take you somewhere, the reason to own a vehicle goes away. Especially when these vehicles become more purpose-built. 

If I am commuting to work as a business person, I might want to have a car that has a desk and a 5G-connection with a webcam, so I can have a video conference with a screen built in, in a comfortable and a soundproof section in the car, so the person next to me does not hear nor see me. The endgame is that, on the way home, I don’t want to do business, I want to sit in a comfortable chair and watch Netflix, so I order a Netflix car.

As a result, I can start using my time in the car for very different things than just sitting in the car and passing the time. Autonomous vehicles will become more about the things you do inside the vehicle, than about owning a pretty car that gets you from A to B.”

What is the timespan that this is going to happen?

“The adoption will take place over time. By 2030, in Europe and North-America, about a third of all miles will be shared mobility, and the driver will be autonomous. Even though it is still very early in the overall adoption, it is not something like a futuristic vision of the world in 20 years from now. It is much closer, like 5 years from now. Moreover, in Phoenix, Arizona, this future is there already, with Waymo running cars with Level 4 autonomy, without a safety driver.

Eventually, it will be cheaper to take an autonomous ride than to own your own car. Today owning a car is about $0.70 a mile, including purchase, fuelling, and maintenance among others. All these expenses don’t have to be paid when you can take a ride in a car that someone else takes care off. The estimated cost for electric shared mobility, comes down to $0.35 a mile, which is half the price.”

What do we lack to realise a full transition towards autonomous shared vehicles?

“The vision that cars are replacements for humans in all aspects of driving, meaning level 5 autonomy, is far out of reach. Nevertheless, in cities, many of the trips are in very localised geofenced areas, where the city maps are very accurate. For these cases, Level 4 is more than enough to have a safe and reliable transportation level. The technology is close, we don’t really need a lot more to make this happen, besides city governments to allow these services.” 

Are the current networks sufficient?

“Yes, you don’t need 5G for autonomous vehicles. The sensors and the processing power in the vehicle are able to power autonomous vehicles very adequately, it is already better than humans, because it is watching all the way around the car all the time, with all types of different technology. The internet connection is the extra, the bonus, to give you advanced warnings. In the end, for level 4 you don’t need 5G, for level 5 autonomy, you do.”

What do fleet managers have to do to convert their fleet into an autonomous one?

“The first thing fleet owners have to do now, we believe, is add the technology that allows these vehicles to be locked and unlocked from a mobile device, and over time switching to a push-to-start-button, instead of a key. As a result, the entire system can be controlled without a key, and for example by our system. 

In the end, the definition of new mobility is a vehicle that is used by more than one person during the day or over time.”

Would employees accept this transition? 

“The employees who have the cars might not be excited to let others use their cars. Often, government regulations push corporate fleets to be shared. For instance, in some cities in China, such as Shanghai, you are not allowed to have a fleet dedicated to one individual.” 

RideCell was launched in 2009, which remarkable evolutions have you seen in 10 years?

“We started as a ride sharing company, in San Francisco, and companies asked us to provide that car sharing and ride hailing services for them, so that is how the company arose. Remarkable is that the last three years, people become excited again about car sharing. 

Now, we realise that the experience companies get in running a car sharing service is that they have to take care of the car, maintain the car, keep them clean, keep them with energy, and insure them. These are all skills which are becoming incredibly important when you get autonomous fleets. 

On the other hand, the main experience of ride hailing companies, like Uber and Lyft, is recruiting drivers and let them maintain their own car. They have no experience in what happens when they have to manage their own fleet. Eventually, the fleet managers and car sharing operators are in a much better position to become an autonomous version of Uber in the future. 

My message to fleet owners is, you guys are in an amazing place to become the leaders in autonomous shared mobility. Don’t wait, start thinking about how to do that now!”

Authored by: Fien Van den steen