Shared mobility options continue to expand across the world. Urban dwellers increasingly view cars as less of a status symbol and more as a way to get from A to B with minimal fuss. As gridlock in cities intensifies and drivers struggle to find accessible, low-cost parking spaces, many urbanites are keen to leave their cars at home. Until recently, alternatives were limited. Public transit and taxis were for a long time the go-to replacement, but users from North America to Europe and Asia resent uncomfortable, often unreliable buses and trains and expensive cab fares.
The rise of ride-hailing and car-sharing models changed everything. According to Zipcar, back in 2000 its notion of providing a free-floating city fleet of easily accessible rental vehicles was dismissed as crazy, and initial critics of Uber wondered whether passengers would be willing to carpool with strangers or be driven by someone without a traditional taxi license. But Uber now claims to provide over 15 million rides per day, and multiple car-sharing services now operate in cities worldwide. Research by Navigant suggests that revenue from the car-sharing sector alone is set to grow to over US$6.2bn by 2020. Once dominated by pioneering start-ups, this new mobility landscape is experiencing an influx of new players—including many established names from the traditional automotive industry.
The appeal of these services has much to do with their convenience. Most, if not all, car-sharing and ride-hailing services are accessed via smartphone apps, allowing users to book a vehicle or trip with a couple of quick clicks. But such services need a complex platform to, among many things, coordinate and enable communication between the user, vehicle and the operating system. Such platforms are often difficult to develop in-house. In response to demand, a handful of companies have stepped into the fray to provide full technology stacks.
Not just for car-sharing
Leading the charge is Vulog, a Paris-headquartered technology company that was an early player in the shared mobility sector. Founded in 2006, it was instrumental in fostering the first round-trip car sharing initiatives via its hardware and software development.
“Vulog offers an end-to-end suite, starting from the hardware that goes inside a vehicle through to a mobility platform that, in a nutshell, combines a vehicle with a user,” said Alex Thibault, Vice President and General Manager of Vulog North America. “We have devised a number of tools, both on the customer facing and the operator sides, which cover everything—CRM capabilities, ticketing, fleet control and maintenance, as well as marketing.”
Most of Vulog’s customers now, whether they are a vehicle distributor, energy company or car rental organisation, are looking to become platforms for vehicle rental and usage
The company’s technology is currently used to power over 25 shared mobility schemes across five continents. But though Vulog’s genesis was oriented towards car-sharing models, it is now approaching shared mobility in a more holistic way. The company’s focus has broadened as it works to etch out a space in the market to help larger operators and established players launch new mobility projects, including micro options such as scooters.
“It’s not just for car-sharing anymore,” said Thibault. “Most of Vulog’s customers now, whether they are a vehicle distributor, energy company or a car rental organisation, are looking to become platforms for vehicle rental and usage. We’re dealing with more companies that want to launch car sharing and scooter sharing in a given city.”
According to Thibault, the company is no longer a mere software and hardware provider. Instead, Vulog is leveraging its years of experience in the field to help prospective mobility providers into the market rapidly, no matter the starting point, through a variety of fully integrated or guided, customisable solutions. As a step towards opening up the mobility market, the company has updated its Artificial Intelligence Mobility Applied (AiMA) platform, which can now support free-floating schemes for instant vehicle access within geofenced areas, including scheduled bookings.
“The big thing that we provide is our ability to cater everything from cradle to grave,” said Thibault. “If a company wants to launch a project in two and a half months, we send someone who is able to reverse engineer three vehicle models for it to be able to launch in this extremely tight timeframe.”
Many automakers will launch a project with Vulog’s app when they need to get to market quickly, but will eventually want to own that customer relationship
With projects in China, Western and Eastern Europe, North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand, the company cites its now-global reach as crucial in its ability to pull best practices from a range of markets and tailor solutions depending on customer needs. “Vulog is the only true global platform in the world,” Thibault told M:bility. “When launching a service in China, it can’t be the same as a service launching in the US, or in Western Europe. Every single time a new service launches somewhere in the world it helps us learn, and helps us to offer customers the best possible stack with the most options available in the marketplace.”
This adaptability is a valuable asset, but Vulog is not just paying attention to regional differences. The company has been watching as the urban mobility landscape shifts to encompass diverse new initiatives. “It is important for everyone in our team to evolve with the times, because what was happening a year ago is completely different to what we are looking towards in the next couple of years,” said Thibault.
One trend that Vulog has kept a keen eye on is micro-mobility, which the new iteration of the AiMA platform is well-placed to facilitate. In 2018 a partnership with Miami-based electric scooter-sharing company Dashee was announced, followed swiftly by the news that Vulog would be partnering with Segway to expand its scooter-sharing services across Europe.
“We have a number of customers around the world that want to launch mopeds and kick-scooters as an addition to their moped or car-sharing services, and we want to offer as many automakers as possible the chance to work with us and our customers,” explained Thibault. “Segway is both a partner for us and a hardware provider—they have a kick-scooter that comes off the line without needing any more hardware. All a mobility provider needs to do is press a couple of buttons and a few clicks on the back office, and it is uploaded directly onto our back-end platform.”
It is important for everyone in our team to evolve with the times, because what was happening a year ago is completely different to what we are looking towards in the next couple of years
As a result of the partnership, existing Vulog customers in Europe seeking to expand their services will be able to add Segway’s kick-scooters to their operations. It’s an attractive prospect for many mobility providers due to the relative ease of customer acquisition. “The cost of user acquisition for scooters is very interesting,” said Thibault. “It’s not necessarily harder to do with car-sharing, but with scooters it is so easy to just pop in a credit card and start riding, which is very appealing to users.”
However, scooters are currently experiencing a backlash of sorts. Though they offer urbanites a cheap and fun way to traverse a city, many citizens and authorities complain that the scooters are left to pile up in certain zones, leaving some streets clogged while other neighbourhoods remain underserved. “Having 20 scooters within 100 yards of each other is not a good way to roll these services out, and there is a trend where cities are asking for more information on where these fleets are located in order for them to control what is happening on their streets,” acknowledged Thibault. “That is why Vulog developed predictive algorithms that enable our customer base to split up these vehicles and to optimise locations based on anticipated demand.”
Make it your own
As well as partnering up to push scooter-sharing to the fore, the company is also leading global automakers into the shared mobility landscape. Currently, Vulog is working with PSA in North America, Kia in Europe and Dongfeng in China, and is set to announce two further high-profile projects later in 2019.
A service launching in China cannot be the same as a service launching in the US, or in Western Europe
“Automakers are in the process of figuring out the B2C landscape through forming partnerships,” said Thibault. “What is interesting is that they gradually want to make the user experience their own. Many automakers will launch a project with Vulog’s app when they need to get to market quickly, but will eventually want to own that customer relationship. They will graduate to their own app, which can still run on our stack without a problem. Frankly, we encourage it.”
This article appeared in the Q3 2019 issue of M:bility | Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.