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posted on May 5th, 2017

DRIVING THE FUTURE: THE EVOLUTION OF CAR OWNERSHIP & MOBILITY

Last week, Turo’s Canada office, in partnership with StartUp Here Toronto, hosted a discussion on the changing landscape of car ownership and Mobility (capital M) at the MaRS Innovation Hub. The talk, hosted by Toronto City Councillor Jaye Robinson, covered a number of the biggest questions looming over the changing transportation landscape in North America.

The panel included Professor Vibhanshu Abhishek of Carnegie Mellon University, Christian Noske, BMW iVentures partner, Chris Reid, Director of Strategy at Intact Financial Corporation, and Turo’s very own President and COO Alex Benn.

While the discussion covered a lot of ground, emphasis emerged around a few main topics:

Car sharing and the auto industry

Conventional thought suggests that car sharing will hurt automakers’ sales because some consumers will opt out of purchasing a new car. In a study published in January, however, Professor Abhishek and his team found that the opposite might be true. The idea goes like this: A consumer’s ability to rent out their car increases their car’s value, and buyers who recognize that added value will be willing to pay more for a new car. By sharing their car on a peer-to-peer market, consumers can either justify buying a car with a higher markup, or buy a more expensive car than they otherwise would.

An important note: The effects of a car sharing market on consumers and OEMs can differ according to a locale’s level of heterogeneity in car usage rates. With low heterogeneity in usage rates (most people have similar driving levels), OEMs are hurt by car sharing services and benefit from a sales-only consumer model. If the heterogeneity is too high (a wide range of usage levels), OEMs should offer both sales and their own rental system. If heterogeneity levels are anywhere in the middle, OEMs and consumers are better off if OEMs stick to sales and embrace peer-to-peer markets.

Connectedness

Our panelists extolled the virtues of smart data collection and analysis whenever possible. Valuable lessons can be learned from systems like BMW’s Telematics program, which tracks all of a driver’s behavior in a car and rewards good behavior with discounts. Data from trackers like this can determine “true driving behavior”, which is more predictive than information on driving habits that has been traditionally collected.

The applications of widely-collected, exhaustive driving data are myriad and can benefit driver safety, traffic, manufacturing strategies, and public policy.

Autonomous vehicles

There is a consensus that the hardware needed for autonomous driving is close to where we want it to be. External sensors and other elements already work well and are quickly approaching very affordable costs. The software is a much more complex problem, but our panelists have faith that viable systems will eventually get developed. Improvements in technology are far outstripping the evolution of government policy and social attitudes.

A large roadblock to implementing widespread use of autonomous vehicles is the safety. How do we benchmark the safety of these systems? How safe is safe? The real test is if autonomous systems work in edge cases — under the worst conditions and with unexpected events. Even, as Christian Noske noted, when a Google autonomous car encountered a broom-wielding woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck.

Introduction of AVs would impact the economy in countless ways, but an immediate effect would be the loss of fleet driving jobs in industries like trucking and taxi driving. Professor Abhishek noted that the market would eventually correct for the changes in the job market, and services like Turo could help alleviate that lost employment for entrepreneurs. Furthermore, AVs would augment Turo’s mission to reduce friction in car sharing and transportation. AVs would help streamline the delivery and handoff process for Turo users. 

Urban ecosystems

Our panel agreed that the pace of change is accelerating, and the best way for everyone to move forward is to embrace the change, be flexible, and see opportunities. Especially in the US and Canada, cities are laid out in a hub and spoke model. The farther you live from the city center, the harder it is to access public transportation. More underprivileged people live far from the city center, imposing inordinate costs on their mobility. The fact that many jobs, especially blue collar jobs, are not located in the city center further complicates access for workers.

Services like Uber can help alleviate these complications without cities having to initiate infrastructure projects. In terms of policy, three areas of focus emerged from the discussion:

Public/private partnerships

Partnering with private companies can significantly lighten the load for city planners working on solutions to emerging problems. Pittsburgh has been aggressively courting companies like Uber to help solve their transportation issues, while Toronto had significant challenges implementing Uber on the local level.

Pilot programs

Embracing autonomous vehicles, for example, will require locales to adopt a trial-and-error strategy. Pittsburgh, again leading the way, is experimenting with creating AV-only lanes to reduce friction with regular drivers.

Open data

A sense of collaboration, informed by data, can lead to thorough exploration and better decision-making. New York City’s Open Data platform compiles data from various city agencies and makes it available to the public for analysis.

Thanks again to Councillor Robinson, our panelists, and all who participated in the discussion of car ownership and mobility at our Canadian anniversary event last week. We’re excited to be a part of such a vanguard industry, and to see where our industry evolves from here.

Cedric is the director for Turo in Canada. When he's not busy exploring the country, you'll find him in Toronto looking for the best restaurant or latest art exhibition in the city.