The Hottest Trend at This Year’s Detroit Auto Show? Not Cars

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in-house starting with a dynamic shuttle for employees. Instead of the traditionally static dispatcher model, the dynamic shuttle can change on the fly to pick up and drop off riders going roughly the same route. Starting next quarter, a mobile-friendly Web portal and smartphone app will be available to riders. Once a mobile-based ride request is made, the software’s algorithm immediately determines the shuttle best suited to address the request without significantly extending the travel time of riders already on board.

Riders are sent an offer including a proposed pick-up time and maximum duration of the trip, which the requester can then accept or decline. If accepted, the request is sent to the shuttle driver’s navigation interface, along with the most efficient route to complete the requests of all riders in the timeliest manner.

“It recognizes that people’s time is important,” Klampfl said of the dynamic shuttle. “It helps with planning, and we’re positioning it at a price point between a taxi and public transportation.”

The shuttles are adapted Ford Transit Connect vans, each seating six to eight people and configured so riders don’t have to sit next to one another. They are also equipped with wifi and charging portals.

The other big mobility announcement made during this year’s NAIAS came from GM. The automaker is launching its own mobility brand and platform called Maven, and it’s meant to build on GM’s 20-year OnStar legacy as well as its recently announced $500 million investment in and partnership with ridesharing service Lyft.

“The handwriting and opportunity has been on the wall for some time,” said Peter Kosak, GM’s executive director of urban mobility. “Some of the features were developed for OnStar and carried through to Maven. But the core element is the ability of drivers to unlock, start remotely, and drive a vehicle using a smartphone. The guiding star for all of it is to make shared use feel more like ownership.”

GM pulled its 40-person global mobility team together by hiring talent from Google, Zipcar, and Sidecar, which it recently acquired for $35 million. To start, Maven will offer car-sharing to all residents of Ann Arbor, MI, by parking 21 GM cars around the city and making them available at a starting rate of $6 per hour. (Last time I checked, that’s slightly cheaper than Zipcar. Like Zipcar, the fuel and insurance needed to operate Maven vehicles are included in the rental price.)

Maven customers use its app to search for and reserve vehicles by location or car type, and they unlock and start the vehicles with their smartphones. Customers can also access Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar, SiriusXM radio, and each vehicle’s embedded wireless hotspot. Maven users will also be able to offer their feedback on the car-sharing service directly to GM via WhatsApp.

In the first quarter of 2016, Maven will launch car-sharing services for a select group of Chicago residents in partnership with Magellan Development Group. Maven is also expanding its existing residential program with Stonehenge Partners in New York City (previously called Let’s Drive NYC), giving users on-demand access to vehicles as part of the amenities package they get as Stonehenge tenants. Combined, the two programs will be available to more than 5,000 people. Maven is also testing various car-sharing models, including peer-to-peer, on college campuses and in Germany and China.

Kosak said Ann Arbor was chosen as the first city to offer Maven’s car-sharing services because it’s a college town containing the sprawling University of Michigan campus that can be hard to navigate. “It’s all about access and options,” he said. “You don’t have to be a GM customer to get intuitive, seamless access and options. We see this as a way to introduce GM products to a much bigger market. Then, later on, when they settle down and want a car, we’ll be in a good position.”

Maven’s Ann Arbor fleet is owned by GM, but the automaker is currently exploring how a peer-to-peer option might work there someday. “We’re iterating now, and we expect it to come together soon,” he added. “WhatsApp is an easy way for new customers to communicate directly with our development team and enable us to move faster.”

Kosak said all of Maven’s initiatives are “near-term,” and all of them come together in what he calls the autonomous future. “App-driven community access to a network of vehicles is what the future will look like,” he said. “As we forge partnerships like Lyft, these things will come together in a way that will really disrupt and be super efficient.”

I asked Kosak: Is the auto industry as we know it over?

“With autonomy, it’s not just the auto industry, but how things are financed, city infrastructure—a lot is going to change,” he replied. “But the benefits are otherworldly. It’s the inevitable future of mobility, and it’s going to change everything.”



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