Some skeptics may think that the car-sharing industry's long, uphill path toward growth and profitability is forever stuck in first gear.
However, the past years and in particular the last one have shown that things can and do change -- and in ways that are often hard to predict. Despite the uncertainties of COVID-19, recent months have seen shared mobility continuing to attract attention, investment and experimentation.
The Citroen Ami and Dacia Spring are both examples of electric vehicles developed with shared mobility in mind, with Renault anticipating similar demand with the EVs developed for its Mobilize brand.
These are important steps – offering the right choice of vehicles for the rigors of sharing makes sense, and the utilitarian, rugged design of these models shows a pragmatic acceptance of consumer behavior. But it's not just about inexpensive offerings – consumers also expect choice and shared mobility services are adapting to reflect this.
For example, the BMW and Daimler joint venture ShareNow, which recently added Fiat 500s to its fleet. ShareNow's 2020 full-year results also provided reasons for optimism, ending a pandemic-beset year on a high with an increased number of customer registrations, 50 percent more trips and reporting a shift toward longer rentals . Similarly, Germany's No. 3 car-sharing service, Miles, also reported a profitable year.
All this shows that -- despite early years as a more niche offering for the green consumer – ongoing experimentation to find the right blend of service offerings to best suit the mobility culture of various markets is paying off.
However, there is still a need to ensure profitable and sustainable growth of services, both by increasing revenues and seeking ways to remove costs.
While it's critical to have an attractive mix of vehicles, car-sharing services and shared mobility services in general are not just physical business that require a convincing user experience when driving, but very much digital-first businesses.
Today, the digital realm is where many opportunities lie. By optimizing the entire technology stack – everything from the telematic systems in vehicles, to the fleet data management -- and the sharing software -- it is possible to improve the customer experience and drive profitability too.
At Invers, we like to say, "The money is in the code."
We believe the revenue streams as well as the costs are ultimately reliant on data and on the engineering skills needed by developers to analyze that data, generate actionable insights and optimize the services accordingly.
Why does this tech stack matter? At the simplest level, a flexible platform that is vehicle- and telematics-agnostic makes it possible to quickly integrate new vehicle types – not just cars, but vans, mopeds, e-scooters and bikes, too.
This provides the flexibility to select the best vehicles for a great physical experience and high cost efficiency irrespective of technical restrictions. Therefore allowing the service to adapt, grow and innovative new business models in response to changing demands.
Effective use of data is also important to improve service in areas such as maintenance, allowing not only to predict but also react accordingly thus significantly cutting repair costs.
Location data can be the key to ensuring vehicles are efficiently relocated and to provide customers with real time information as to the vehicles available nearby. For EVs, service providers can ensure more efficient battery management too, addressing a high value asset in the fleet.
We also see an opportunity for additional sensor data as a way of adding value – for example to help better inform local authorities as how and when passenger journeys are made or even as a way to monitor street damage or air pollution. This ability to help inform and improve public decision-making could be a way of winning tenders and licenses to operate.
Ultimately, there is no straight road to building profitable and attractive shared mobility services but success will be the result of a continuous process of optimization – and the agility to evolve in a rapidly changing world.