DETROIT – Car-centric Detroit – the city that shelved its streetcars six decades ago in a homegrown effort to encourage bus ridership and individual automobile ownership and use – is slowly but surely beginning to embrace the wide variety of mobility options cropping up across the country.
From Q-Line streetcars serving Woodward Avenue from the New Center to downtown to the appearance of Bird scooters on city sidewalks, the Motor City is becoming Mobility City in what seems like the blink of an eye.
Even the often-derided 31-year-old People Mover elevated trolley is enjoying a resurgence, while the decrepit and abandoned Michigan Central Train Station is getting new life, purchased by Ford for $90 million to house the Dearborn automaker’s growing electrification and mobility operations.
Scooters, a primary transportation mode in Europe and Asia, recently got a boost in Motown. Joe Ricci, who runs a suburban Detroit car dealership group, and Detroit entrepreneur Rachel Lutz, who operates four women’s boutiques in the city, combined efforts to open a pop-up Vespa scooter showroom inside The Peacock Room, Lutz’s store in the fabled Fisher Building just a stone’s throw from what used to be General Motors’ headquarters.
Ricci, the Detroit area’s exclusive Vespa dealer, is offering scooter test rides at the pop-up location through April. A permanent location may follow, depending on demand for alternative forms of transportation in the city, Ricci says. The average Vespa’s retail price is about $5,400, including delivery and a helmet, and the fuel economy rating is 90-100 mpg, he says.
This week, Mobiliti, which bills itself as “Metro Detroit’s premier vehicle subscription service,” and the LaFontaine Automotive Group, reveal plans for growing the use of shared vehicles in southeast Michigan.
The dealership group, with 20 stores in Michigan, is studying depreciation and insurance costs en route to finalizing plans to launch the subscription service with Mobiliti, says COO Ryan LaFontaine.
“We’ve been ready to go for months,” LaFontaine tells WardsAuto on the sidelines of an Automotive Press Assn. luncheon here.
Chance Richie, founder and CEO of Detroit-based Mobiliti, says the Detroit-area subscription service through LaFontaine should be in place by year’s end. Under the Mobiliti subscription plan, clients pay a flat rate for use of vehicles, including the vehicle rental rate, insurance, maintenance and road service. Mobiliti’s Texas-market subscribers pay $469 to $1,100 per month, depending on the vehicles they drive, Richie says.
The 18-month-old company has about 100 dealer partners and 1,000 subscribers nationally, with about 60 customers already using the service in metro Detroit, Richie says.
Dealerships will have to adapt as traditional vehicle ownership is supplanted by new modes of transportation such as subscription services, says Joe George, president-Cox Automotive Mobility Solutions. Even though many mobility services still are in their infancy, George says survey results show 25% of consumers are aware of subscription services and 10% would consider adopting the model.
Increasing vehicle costs and rising interest rates are among factors driving changes in the industry, which has leaned heavily on leasing in recent years as transaction prices have climbed.
“We haven’t had a significant innovation since leasing,” George notes.
Says LaFontaine: “There are going to be a lot more options in this space. As dealers, we have to be ready for that. In the next five years, car dealerships are going to completely change.”