Twenty years ago already Swiss carsharing cooperative Mobility had adopted the basic idea of using rather than owning. Since then Mobility has surfed the wave of the digital revolution and new paradigms of convenience and status to capitalise on this business idea with innovative, far-sighted services. Mobility communications manager Patrick Eigenmann explains how Mobility is building on its market leadership and describes the carsharing of the future.
Mobility is a pioneer in carsharing. Where did the idea behind your business model come from?
The end of the 1980s saw the emergence of two companies with the same business idea: ATG AutoTeilet, a cooperative in Nidwalden with eight people and one red car, and ShareCom in Zurich. In 1997 they merged to form Mobility.
We’ve always been organised as a cooperative. Our approach is guided by economics, but we’re not geared to maximising profit. Any surplus goes to our customers in the form of fair prices and innovative offers.
What factors drove the emergence of the basic idea of using rather than sharing?
The average private car in Switzerland goes nowhere 23 hours a day. The founders saw enormous potential in this: why not share cars rather than having them stand around unused? In the early days this philosophy was clearly inspired by environmental concerns. That’s no longer the case. While being kind to the environment continues to be a welcome side-effect for our customers, simplicity, convenience and the chance to save money are the main motives for carsharing.
What trends are driving the business now?
First we have the share economy, which is on the rise everywhere, from apartments to tools and cars. Then there’s the increasing scarcity of urban space and growing traffic problems. Transport solutions like mobility are an obvious solution. And thirdly you have the fact that carsharing is no longer attractive only for private individuals: more and more businesses are cashing in on the benefits. For them too costs and sustainability are key issues. Instead of investing in a fleet of their own they’d rather use Mobility or fit out their company cars with our carsharing technology. We now generate a quarter of our sales with business customers.
What’s the role of digitisation in your business model?
It’s the main factor. In the early days we left the keys to Mobility cars in special key safes, and customers had to enter their trips by hand in a logbook.
Digitisation has made our business suitable for a mass audience and allowed us to grow on a broad scale. Car keys have given way to chip cards and on-board computers, and these days 94% of reservations are made online and via our app. We’ve also developed our own carsharing technology, which we’re optimising on an ongoing basis and are now selling abroad.
What does the competitive landscape look like, in Switzerland and abroad? Have new competitors from other industries muscled in on your market?
We’re the only carsharing provider operating across the board in Switzerland. Our main competition comes from private cars, which are also our benchmark for prices and the services we offer. Internationally most car manufacturers have recognised the potential and have now launched projects based on the same or similar business ideas. But so far none of them has ventured into Switzerland.
That certainly has to do with our strong position. We provide a dense network of Mobility stations throughout the country. We’re close to our customers and are able to offer innovation geared specifically to our audience, which is particularly well received in densely populated areas. Our leading position is made even stronger by a whole range of collaborations with partners in public transport.
And providers like Uber?
We don’t see them as direct competitors. So far they haven’t been able to offer anything to take the place of private cars. This is because our customers use mobility vehicles for everyday purposes such as shopping or moving. Offerings like Sharoo are still marginal. But of course we keep a very close eye on all the developments taking place in the market.
What do you offer for a young, mobile audience of 18 to 25-year-olds? How do you reach these people?
The share of young customers is growing more quickly than any other group. There are many reasons for this. First of all we get them on board with targeted offers such as carsharing for learners and students. Secondly, young people no longer see the car as a status symbol. Thirdly, collaborative consumption is something completely normal for young people. They use services on demand, and want to be able to decide for themselves what they consume when and in what form. Carsharing has always catered to this need.
What innovative forms of carsharing are there these days?
In 2014 we launched Catch a Car, a service offered in cities to cater to so-called free floating in urban centres. A customer can use Catch a Car to get from A to B and then leave the car in any blue parking zone in the area covered. We’re just finishing a two-year pilot in Basel which was supported by the ETH. The results make persuasive reading: like Mobility, Catch a Car reduces traffic and promotes public transport. One Mobility vehicle replaces ten private cars; with Catch a Car it’s around four. Now there are more than 5,000 people using Catch a Car, half of whom also use Mobility. Soon we want to roll out Catch a Car in other cities.
We’re currently testing a new form of carsharing we call Mobility One Way which will enable people to travel longer distances from one Mobility station to another. Here too they don’t have to bring the car back to the station they picked it up from. We’re currently looking into the most popular routes and seeing how price-sensitive our customers are. By the end of the year we’ll have five vehicles available for Mobility One Way.
Is carpooling interesting for you?
At the moment we’re not interested in getting actively involved in this market. But we have taken a financial interest in Sharoo. Under their model, private individuals make their cars available and set the price and available time themselves.
Could changes in the law, for example in data privacy, affect your business model?
No, I don’t think so. We don’t capture geodata, so we don’t know when and where our cars are being used. The only information we have is the time the car has been reserved for and the number of kilometres travelled, which we need to know to be able to bill usage. This data is unproblematic from a data privacy point of view.
How do you see carsharing in 10 or 20 years from now?
The market will continue to grow and become even more diversified. People will still want to save time and money in the future. The limits of individual and public transport are also working in favour of alternatives such as carsharing.
These developments are driving combined mobility forward, and in the future you’ll be able to combine different modes of transport such as carsharing, tram, rail and bike for a single journey. You’ll have apps suggesting the quickest, most direct or most environmentally friendly way of getting to your destination.
Self-driving cars are the ultimate opportunity for carsharing. In 20 years at the most they’ll be ready for use on the roads. They’ll revolutionise individual transportation and take carsharing into a new dimension. Mobility has already made the first moves to enable us to play a key role in this field.
What can the experience with your business model teach companies in other industries?
We recognise that we have to refine our products and invest in innovation on a permanent basis. We take an evolutionary approach. To be able to innovate constantly you need to be entrepreneurially far-sighted. My own experience is that Mobility is an extremely forward-looking organisation.
Cooperation is one of the main keys to our success. In the very early days it gave us the breadth we needed, and it continues to make us strong. For example we have partnerships with the Swiss railways, various regional transport networks, care hire firms and Migros. Synergies like these are extremely valuable and add a lot of value.
Another factor in our success is the fact that we’re so close to our customers, both emotionally and geographically. We take our customers seriously and offer them quick and convenient services geared to their needs. Customer satisfaction is right at the top of our list of priorities. We also actively foster the values that have marked us out for decades: friendliness, respect, openness and flexibility. The wishes and feedback of our customers help keep Mobility on course for success.
The Mobility Cooperative
Mobility is the biggest provider of carsharing services in Switzerland, with 127,300 customers using 2,900 vehicles at 1,460 Mobility stations. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, Mobility’s carsharing services are easy to use, low cost and available around the clock in self-service mode. In 2015 Mobility posted consolidated sales of CHF 74.1 million and a profit of CHF 3.7 million.
Patrick Eigenmann (35) has been in charge of communications and media at Mobility for nearly four years. In this capacity he’s responsible for all communications with customers and cooperation with partners. After gaining a degree in business communications he spent several years working for the Swiss consumer goods industry association Promarca.
Experience Center Director
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