Automotive Blogs

Car Companies Failing @ Mobility

by Roger Lanctot | Dec 19, 2019

As 2019 comes to a close, ShareNow (formerly know in the U.S. and elsewhere as Car2Go) announced its plans to exit the North American (and other) markets. The last day of service will be Feb. 29, 2020. In press reports and press releases from joint venture partners BMW and Daimler, the companies attributed the departure to "complicated realities" including "the volatile state of the global mobility industry" and rising infrastructure costs.

Let's be honest. The service was crappy and unreliable. Customer service was poor and unpredictable. So add high operating costs onto lousy execution and you get failure which has the potential to paint a gloomy outlook for mobility services, which include car sharing.

Following in the footsteps of General Motors' Maven retreat and similar rollbacks, divestments, and closures at Ford Motor Company, Cadillac, and Audi one might draw the conclusion that so-called "mobility services" (i.e. ride hailing, car sharing, car subscriptions, micromobility) are failing to capture the imagination and, more importantly, the dollars of consumers. One would be wrong to draw such a conclusion.

One need look no further than Los Angeles, where Mocean car sharing (Hyundai) is gearing up and BlueLA is in full flower, to pick up on the growing mobility momentum. Getaround is adding sharable branded cars to its peer-to-peer-centric fleet, Turo has tied up with Nissan to offer test drives. Toyota is expanding its Kinto car subscription service. And Sixt is seeking to rule the global mobilitysphere with a broad car renting/sharing/hailing and micromobility program.

BlueLA is particularly notable - rising from the ashes of Autolib unceremonious exit from Paris this year.

But the demise of Car2Go IS a blow given that the company, at its peak, boasted more than 4M subscribers using 20K+ cars in more than 31 cities in North America and Europe. Car2Go's fleet represents nearly 1/15th of the global fleet of shared cars. It was the largest car sharing operator.

Car2Go had learned to fail quickly and reset - adding an ever-broader variety of vehicles to its iconic and increasingly ubiquitous Smart-centric offering. But the challenges of managing vehicle access, payments, damage, insurance, parking, clearning, refueling, relocating, geofencing, and account management and customer credentialing piled on top of the massive capital exposure of supporting a 20,000-vehicle fleet became too much.

The bigger picture is much brighter. Strategy Analytics expects 2019 to end with nearly 60M registered users of car sharing services globally, with approximately 340,000 vehicles operating on a growing number of platforms generating more than $4B in revenue. In fact, 2020 is shaping up as a solid year for growth in the category as companies such as Penske Motors in the U.S. and Volkswagen in Europe and elsewhere step up to the car sharing opportunity.

But let's be clear. My money is on Penske, not Volkswagen. Car companies have repeatedly demonstrated in the mobility space that they have failed to master the B2C experience. In spite of all their consumer-directed advertising, car companies are business-to-business operators (B2B). They simply aren't well equipped to take on direct customer engagement and interaction propositions such as car sharing.

Car companies are good at testing built-in vehicle systems. But they are apparently horrible at testing and validating real customer user experiences around ad hoc vehicle use (something that Strategy Analytics does for its clients all over the world). The complaints surrounding OEM car sharing programs are widespread and relate to all aspects of the customer experience.

It is for this reason that rental car companies (Avis/ZipCar, Sixt) and pure play mobility operators (Bollore/BlueLA) have an advantage. They are more focused and have a better grasp of the logistics and a higher tolerance for "pain."

Car companies will not soon surrender in the pursuit of car sharing success. To achieve that success I strongly recommend some cross pollination (i.e. hiring) from the rental car industry. Rental car companies understand the vicissitudes of ad hoc vehicle usage and the challenges of delivering a pleasing and satisfactory customer experience.

The battle for mobility will be fought between taxi companies, rental car companies, and the likes of Amazon, Google, Yandex, and Baidu. Car companies need to hire in the right talent or throw in the towel. ShareNow will probably be back at some point in the future - but next time with a bigger checkbook and new leadership.

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