Automotive > In-Vehicle UX Blog

Bolt: Mobility's Profit Prophet

by Roger Lanctot | May 28, 2020

Markus Villig, the CEO of ride-hailing operator Bolt, had good news for his fellow panelists on an April mobility-focused Webcast put on by The Information. The ride hailing sector is highly profitable, he said, contrasting it with the shared scooter sector, which is not.

With newly public Lyft and Uber continually reporting quarterly losses it is easy to see how casual observers might have overlooked the ride-hailing segment's compelling fundamentals. Naya Capital Management seized the opportunity this week to sink an additional €100M ($109M) into Bolt in a convertible note. Bolt now says it is valued at €1.7B (or nearly $1.9B).

The investment, arriving in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, is a huge vote of confidence in Bolt, in the potential for the overall market's recovery, and in the soundness of the ride hailing business model. Villig's assessment of ride hailing profitability highlighted a reality well known to other market contenders around the world including Uber, Lyft, Yandex, Grab, Ola, DiDi, and Gett.

Offering an app-based transportation experience based on privately owned, leased or rented vehicles opens up considerable room to competitively displace taxis, rental cars, public transportation, and possibly vehicle ownership. Villig's message was most notable in the context of a ride-hailing industry brought to its knees by the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide "lockdowns" that have decimated both recreational and business-related rides.

Bolt executives noted that the company was closing in on a breakeven point toward the end of last year, with plans to expand into food delivery and micromobility. COVID-19 has reshaped Bolt's priorities with Villig now acknowledging the greater vulnerability of the micromobility sector and the company surrendering its market presence in Australia.

Bolt stands out among ride hailing operators for its presence in 35 markets globally, the second broadest market coverage in the sector. Bolt also benefits from its presence in a recovering European market - where it has gleaned financial support from the European Investment Bank - the Middle East, and Africa.

While rivals Uber (U.S.), Yandex (Russia), and Ola (India) are struggling with prolonged and lingering downturns in their home markets, Bolt is poised to capitalize on European drivers and passengers re-emerging after successfully tamping down the impact of COVID-19. Bolt claims 30M users across 150 cities.

Comparison of Top Bolt Markets/# of Drivers vs. COVID-19 Infections/Deaths

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Techcrunch reports that Bolt has raised more than €300M including debt and equity. The plan for the new funding will be to expand ride hailing, scooters, and food delivery along with a focus on B2B taxi services and package delivery. Best of all, the company has plans to introduce Bolt Protect "for people to continue to use its ride-hailing services by kitting out cars with plastic sheeting between driver and passenger seats," according to Techcrunch.

By adding plastic sheeting to protect drivers and passengers, Bolt joins DiDi Chuxing in China and Alto in the U.S. in leading the way to safer ride hailing operations during the post-COVID-19 period. Uber, Lyft, Yandex, Gett, Ola, Grab, and others have yet to adopt similar prophylactic measures.

Techcrunch says of Bolt "so far, it hasn’t laid off any of its 1,500 employees as Uber and others have, although it has cut salaries between 20% and 30% across the board. The spokesperson said that it’s now slowly returning salaries to pre-COVID levels."

Bolt is providing the industry a rare slice of good news and a return of investor confidence in the mobility sector. The introduction of driver safety measures and the benefit of operating in markets experiencing less severe impacts from COVID-19 are the most promising developments of all. And for Villig to maintain an interest in the less profitable scooter sector is a further endorsement of what is expected to be a massive surge of activity as that market springs back to life.

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