French-based company Europcar is no longer content with simple car hire. Now it is setting its sights on being major player in ‘new mobility’.
Traditional car rental is no longer enough for Europcar. Its new CEO Caroline Parot (pictured) has set her sights on re-defining the company as a ‘new mobility’ provider.
Her ambition for the business is simple – Europcar should be able to provide adequate transport for anyone, in any situation. She calls it ‘new mobility’ (rather than simply ‘mobility’) because “we are already a mobility company - car rental is mobility”.
The initiative is largely technology-based. Parot, who has led Europcar since November 2016, said the business already had the logistical setup and vehicle fleet to support new mobility but it was the technology that needed greater development and adoption in order to succeed.
To showcase its vision the company has opened a flagship mobility centre in Brussels. Further stations are due to be opened in key cities over the next 12 months.
At the launch event, Parot told Fleet News: “The mobility need is accelerating everywhere – we are in a world where people want to do more and more but the way of doing it is changing.”
In response to the growth of technology, the new mobility centre is equipped with digital kiosks to give customers quick access to practical information, alongside personal support from dedicated branch staff.
The mobility centre concept came from the Europcar Lab - a team of people responsible for innovation. The Lab’s goal is to design solutions that can meet every mobility need – from rental to car-sharing – for daily and occasional requirements.
At the Brussels site it is possible to book a traditional or electric vehicle, access a car-sharing solution with Ubeeqo (a Europcar Group subsidiary) or rent a scooter with Scooty (a partner of Europcar in Belgium which provides access to electric scooters).
Parot confirmed that Europcar will continue to acquire or partner with businesses offering mobility solutions in cities around Europe, when opportunities arise.
Apps are at the centre of the solution. Currently, 20% of Europcar customers are using mobile apps to make reservations with the company. In 2015 it acquired Ubeeqo, a mobility start-up, which is 100% app-based. Now the focus is to integrate that digital experience into the wider business.
Parot explains: “Technology has already come a long way and is one of the key pillars to making new mobility a success. In-car technology provides fleet operators with far more detailed information regarding their vehicles and allows customers to book and access vehicles with their smartphones.”
Future branches are likely to be unmanned or at least have fewer customer-facing staff, but currently 30% of bookings are still made on the phone – a number that has remained static for the past three years and highlights a need for human interaction.
“We don’t push for the call,” says Parot. “People still want to call because they want very specific cars, or need a very specific location.
“We would love it if everybody used the mobile app, but the reality is we are not yet able to decrease this portion that calls.
“For the ones who are using digital already, we are pushing them more towards the app.”
It could be feasible for Europcar to operate unmanned branches in the future as the new mobility centre has self-service terminals, plus car share vehicles can be accessed using a mobile phone app.
Europcar’s acquisition of Ubeeqo was the first step in the journey towards new mobility. The app-based business allows users to rent a car, book a taxi or access a car-sharing scheme from one portal. The service has more than 2,000 vehicles available across Europe and Europcar is keen to expand this as new-mobility gains popularity.
“Ubeeqo customers see no employees, all the staff are at back end,” Parot explains.
“It is a challenging business to operate; you need intelligent people who understand the issues on the streets – because the customer is alone."
“Ubeeqo is growing in the B2B space because the B2B customer likes this kind of mobility. We are testing it in big cities and new mobility is already working in places like Paris, Brussels and London,” she adds.
Europcar is only pushing the app in these urban areas. Parot says the service it is not really working outside of big cities where there is less demand for new solutions.
“To facilitate further growth, one of the key factors will be a fully developed public transport infrastructure, as most business models in the era of new mobility cannot work on a stand-alone basis and need to be integrated as part of a wider eco-system,” says Parot.
To complement the app, a new chat service is being developed which will allow customers to book and amend rentals using the popular smartphone messaging app WhatsApp – negating the need to visit the website or make a call.
Corporate travel makes up 45% of Europcar’s total business and this is expected to grow as employers realise the advantages of new mobility.
Parot explains: “Companies want one single invoice for a trip. If there is an airport transfer, hire car during a trip and taxi to return the employee home, this should all be on one bill. By integrating our solutions, we can become a travel manager for companies.
“There are more travellers and they are travelling more. We need to capture the start and end of those trips rather than just being part of the journey.”
Car clubs provide access to both rental and car sharing options, giving businesses and employees a real alternative to grey fleet.
As well as reducing the number of older vehicles in their fleet and eliminating grey fleet usage, they help businesses to run more fuel efficient and environmentally-friendly vehicles.
“Businesses can only benefit from further growth in public car clubs,” says Parot.
“Those signing up to our services and looking to further reduce the cost of their own fleet have the option of making their vehicles available to the public or their employees outside of working hours which, in turn, creates a new source of revenue as well as benefiting the local community.”
Parot believes that corporate customers are likely to include new mobility alongside a traditional leasing model, rather than total adoption.
“The balance between rental and leasing will be influenced by a number of factors including the relative cost of each service and the customer’s need for flexibility over the hire period,” Parot says.
However, Europcar is hoping that it can eradicate the need for car ownership altogether in the private sector.
“Sharing is the new buying,” says Parot. Smartphone usage is expected to double in the next five years and Europcar believes now is the time to tap into millennials who are looking for newer and more affordable ways to get from A to B.
Peer-to-peer car sharing provides the customer with a long-term rental vehicle, with a fixed price, inclusive of insurance.
The customer can then choose to offer the car back to the sharing network during periods when they don’t need it and receive money as payment.
“Your car will spend as much as 95% of its time parked up while you are at work, home or on holiday,” says Parot.
“Why not realise that asset by letting other people use it?” she asks.
Europcar is trialling the model in France with car-sharing partner GoMore.
The pilot has found it takes around 10 days of sub-letting to totally cover the monthly hire cost of the vehicle.