DETROIT – Executives from ride-hailing and -sharing services Uber, Lyft, Maven and Zipcar say they are friends, not foes, of the auto industry.
Speaking at a 2017 SAE World Congress Experience mobility discussion here, all agree ride-hailing, ride-sharing and car-sharing largely will be an urban phenomenon for the time being, with individual car ownership, the bread-and-butter of the industry, not yet an endangered species.
“I don’t think (personally owned vehicles) will ever go away,” says Lyft’s Robert Grant, director-government relations.
Adds Zipcar’s Dan Curtin, vice president-fleet and supply chain: “Certainly in urban areas I think there’s going to be a lower demand for personally owned vehicles,” repeating a familiar theme of any mobility-as-a-service discussion due to the high cost of owning, operating and parking a vehicle in big cities.
Panelists also say hailing and sharing is helping society and will not be the jobs-killers as portrayed by critics.
“In New York City, a mature ride-sharing environment, 30% of the pickups and drop-offs of Uber are in the ʼburbs, outside the city. That’s only 10% for taxis,” says Sherif Marakby, Uber vice president-global vehicle programs. “So what that says is a lot of people that didn’t have access before, now they have access.”
Grant cites a report stating easier access to transportation for those who primarily are housebound could create 2 million more job opportunities.
“You’re not isolated anymore” with mobility services, adds General Motors/Maven’s Peter Kosak, executive director-urban mobility.
Marakby says Uber already is spurring job growth. He notes 25% of Uber drivers in France previously were unemployed, and in Mexico City and Cairo the figure was closer to 40%-50%.
(In a slight dig at Uber, Grant notes Lyft’s drivers, who are encouraged to accept tips, just surpassed $200 million in gratuities as a group.)
Markaby, a former Ford senior engineer, says when autonomous vehicles begin to take hold and the role of driver no longer is necessary, new jobs to service and maintain hailing and sharing fleets will be created.
Sharing already is resulting in enterprise businesses popping up, says Kosak, noting San Francisco car-sharing service Getaround is seeing small-fleet owners develop. A person buys five cars, for instance, drives one for their personal use and puts the other four into car-sharing service. “That’s a hybrid of ownership and shared use,” he says.
A traditional auto supplier may not seem like a key player in mobility-as-a-service, but Denso’s Pat Bassett, vice president-engineering in the U.S., notes the company is exploring a prognostications business which would help fleet owners keep their vehicles up and running and avoid losing revenue due to downtime.
“Based on (vehicle) data, can we predict failures of certain components?” Bassett says to WardsAuto following the panel discussion. Data generated by mechanical parts can be studied to predict when they may fail, he says. “Especially in a fleet, we can have them service the car in a timely manner.”
Bassett says Denso is starting to build relationships in an effort to get access to the data it needs, and it sees new-mobility firms, daily-car-rental companies and even heavy-truck fleets as probable clients.
Meanwhile, Marakby believes the near-universal thinking that autonomous vehicles for new-mobility fleets should be plug-ins and electric vehicles is erroneous.
“Long-term, I see the industry going back to some kind of small power/generator,” he says. An integrated starter/generator paired with a small internal-combustion engine is a simpler, more cost-effective solution to the heavy computing power necessary to run autonomous-vehicle systems.
However, other panelists believe pairing autonomous functionality and PHEVs/EVs is on the right track, given cities are cracking down on tailpipe pollution and requesting electrified vehicles be used in hailing and sharing fleets.
GM’s Kosak notes 25 Chevy Bolt EVs placed two months ago into Lyft’s San Francisco fleet already have accrued 150,000 miles (241,402 km) and undergone 1,500 fast charges.
Panelists advise cities to be mindful of the need for charging infrastructure, either via stations or wireless-charging pads, now and not five to 10 years in the future if they want EVs and PHEVs to become viable alternatives to internal-combustion-engine models.