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Get 15 per cent of your life back - says expert Shiva Kumar on driverless mobility

Private Life and Mobility

Stephan Giesler

7-10-2019

       

An ex investment banker, and the new executive vice president of a mobility software company, talks about the 'whys', 'hows' and, of course, the 'whens' of autonomous driving

photo: Shiva Kumar

"Autonomous vehicles, whether people agree or disagree, are bound to happen. The only question left to answer is when?"

 

Shiva Kumar is a man who understands the concept of 'the consumer' better than most.

 

A former investment banker, now executive vice president for Ridecell, the leading platform provider for shared and autonomous mobility operators. From humble beginnings in 2009, the platform now powers new mobility offerings all over the world, focusing on ride sharing. This includes ZITY by Renault and Ferrovial, and GIG Car Share by AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah.

 

Shiva's speciality is finance, but it's also business development or, as he calls it, "strategically–optimising the assets" of fleet companies – including the budding autonomous ones, once they start publicly operating.

 

"Ridecell enables these companies to optimise their assets, whether it is non-autonomous or autonomous, in terms of revenue share, as well as both improving their productivity and reducing their cost."

 

In other words, he's a very good person to speak to regarding the impending autonomous revolution and how it will impact on the consumer, the market and the companies using the tech.

 

15 per cent of your life back

The benefits of driverless tech have long been apparent – and they aren't lost on Shiva. His passion on what autonomous vehicles could bring to each of us as individuals is clear:

 

"In the US alone, people spend two hours just commuting back and forth from work on average, which is approximately 10 to 15 per cent of their waking time – a significant portion. If you can unlock that time, make it more useful, whether it is through work, connecting with their friends and families or something else, autonomous vehicles will bring those benefits. Think of it as 15 per cent of additional life that you are getting at a younger age, where you are free to choose how you want to spend it, and that is very powerful."

 

As with any new technology of this magnitude, it's going to cause some significant market disruptions – something Shiva is fully embracing with his sudden career change.

 

"When I started my career, I began at a start-up that was later acquired by Intel. I always thought I would be in a start-up or a 'disruptive' company. Longer-term wanted to be part of a company that is disrupting the whole value chain and Ridecell is a perfect example of that".

 

However, there could be a significant shift in how autonomous technology is consumed – moving away from the typical ‘consumer buys vehicle’ structure and into something completely different.

photo: ridecell.com

The consumer triangle

There are three factors to consider, whenever thinking about 'the consumer' in relation to the use of vehicles: the speed, the price and the convenience. Different situations will call for different priorities in this regard. Comfort is crucial for a long, leisurely road trip, but speed is the key for the commute. For some, the only thing that matters is sticking to the budget – which means speed and convenience are just a bonus.

 

Of course, convenience is a huge factor when it comes to vehicle use and ownership. It is debatably the strongest, and potentially only, argument against public transport – but it comes at a very literal cost. This is something that the rise of autonomous tech could change up, and fast, especially as the convenience element is covered by its 'door-to-door' nature.

 

"I don't believe consumers will buy driverless cars. It is more likely they will rely on driverless but primarily the vehicles will be bought and operated by fleets. The autonomous vehicle promises to at least bring the operating cost from $2 per mile to about 30 to 40 cents per mile, which is a huge saving from a price perspective."

 

But, aside from projected savings in cost, there may be an upside in terms of speed too. Far more than the time when cars were largely owned by the people driving them.

 

"Most congestion happens because of the human driver, which results in traffic backlog. Autonomous vehicles, given that they’re machines, can be operated at much shorter distances. This means the space between the cars will be a lot narrower and much more methodical and disciplined."

 

So, that's the entire consumer trifecta ticked off – driverless could easily be much better than the alternatives in each. Traditionally, the consumer has almost exclusively steered the market in terms of how vehicles are designed, manufactured, marketed and sold – but soon, they may be powered by the needs and wants of the fleet operators instead.

 

"Ultimately, the power still lies with the consumer. But it's otherwise shifting from the OEMs [original equipment manufacturer] to gig companies such as Uber and Lyft, where they understand on a consumer-by-consumer basis what kind of experiences are expected. The value is then going to be accrued by those intermediary companies who understand the customer needs and provide those customised experiences through various forms of transportation."

photo: ridecell.com

The autonomous future

As we already know, the technology is most of the way there. But there's still a very long way to go. Although, according to Shiva, the only question left to answer is not 'if' or 'how', but 'when'?

 

"I think we're looking at about eight to 10 years on the timeline. There are lots of things that have to happen. The first thing is, of course, the technology itself – but the second is the supporting regulation, and that can take time. Regulatory boards are notoriously conservative, so that will be the biggest challenge."

 

Is the future in fleet, or do you think it'll remain firmly consumer-focused? Join the debate and make your voice heard.

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