Navigant Research Blog

Sharing Companies Shouldn’t Get Free Rides

— February 6, 2018

One of the big themes of recent years has been the emergence of the so-called “sharing” economy. Unless we were raised by hardcore Ayn Rand acolytes, chances are that as children we were taught that sharing is good, and I certainly subscribe to that philosophy. However, the kind of sharing I learned was about splitting cookies or letting other kids play with my toys. It wasn’t about business, it was for free in an altruistic manner. What we increasingly experience today is a freelance gig economy that has little to do with that kind of sharing, and has everything to do with commerce.

The Capitalism of Sharing

Why is this relevant? Many of the shared economy startups claim to be enablers of sharing when in fact they are independent business enablers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we need to recognize these companies and their products for what they are and treat them accordingly from a policy standpoint.

Instagram is, or at least was before it was taken over by “paid influencers,” a place for users to share photos with friends. Uber and Lyft are platforms that enable freelance taxi drivers to give rides to strangers for pay. AirBnB is a platform to let people rent rooms, apartments, or houses to strangers for pay. Turo is a platform that lets individuals try to become Hertz by making their cars available to rent.

Dictionary definitions of sharing don’t rule out commerce since we buy fractions of companies and other products and call them shares. But the messaging from these companies always seems to focus on sharing in the altruistic context. This framing of the message is often used as part of the argument for circumventing regulations that govern the traditional form of the industries these new businesses are trying to compete with.

Safety in Sharing?

While there are undoubtedly plenty of rules in the taxi, hospitality, and rental businesses that are outdated and in many cases simply protectionist for incumbents, there are others that provide a public good. Background checks for taxi and livery drivers aren’t a terrible idea when it comes to public safety. Ensuring that homes being rented out to travelers meet building safety codes is ultimately a good thing. Managing where people pick up rental cars or hail rides at airports or in cities is crucial to safe and efficient operation for everyone. Yet some upstarts seem to think they get a free ride from regulations by playing the sharing card.

In late January 2018, Turo was in a dispute with the City of San Francisco about permitting at the San Francisco International Airport. The rules are meant to help pay for upkeep of the airport and manage traffic congestion. Turo claims it is not a rental company on the basis of it not owning or renting the physical assets, similar to the arguments made by Uber, Airbnb, and others. While the operational details differ from incumbent to incumbent, the end result to the customer is effectively the same as with those established players. They make reservations and payments using the startups portal, pick up their rental, and drive.

Compliance with reasonable business rules will be increasingly important as we transition to automated mobility services. Navigant Research’s report, Market Data: Automated Driving Vehicles, anticipates nearly 5 million such vehicles being deployed by 2025. If cities cannot manage where they go, congestion is likely to get worse rather than improve. We need to find a cooperative balance between overregulation and being completely laissez faire if we are to solve our transportation problems.

 

The Door to Sharing EV Charging Data Is Now Open

— January 30, 2018

Industry players agree that understanding the interaction between plug-in EVs (PEVs) and the grid is critical to growing the PEV market. Utilities are interested in the analysis of charging behaviors and their impact on the daily load cycles so that they can plan for the additional load. In the US, with the exception of government-funded enterprises such as the EV Project, charging data collected by utilities, automakers, and charging service providers (CSPs) has remained proprietary to their organizations.

Electrify America Leading the Way

However, in the foreseeable future, investments by the likely largest funder of EV charging infrastructure in the US will spur greater openness by CSPs on charging data. Electrify America, the Volkswagen (VW) company that was created to comply with the terms of the diesel settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency, has been selecting CSPs that support open standards to enable the sharing of charging data.

On January 23, Electrify America, which will spend $2 billion over 10 years on charging infrastructure, awarded a contract to Greenlots to be the operating platform for an upcoming network of high power DC fast chargers. According to the press release, “Greenlots’ technology will enable Electrify America to effectively build, operate, and manage its high power charging network by providing real-time charger health status, utilization data, dynamic pricing capabilities, and predictive analytics.” In addition, Greenlots’ CEO Brett Hauser said that the company’s SKY platform will roll up data from all of the charging hardware, regardless of the vendor.

Installing Chargers

In December 2017, Electrify America announced that it would install 2,800 Level 2 chargers in workplace and residential locations in 17 of the biggest metropolitan areas across the US. For the project, which also includes multifamily and designated low income and disadvantaged community areas, Electrify America selected Greenlots, EV Connect, and SemaConnect as its CSP partners.

Both Greenlots and SemaConnect are participants in the Alliance for Transportation Electrification, a group that launched in November 2017 to promote open standards, help shape state policies and rate structures, and facilitate expansion of EV infrastructure. The open standard that the group supports is the open charge point protocol (OCPP), an international standard with origins in Europe that is gaining momentum in the US. OCPP is supported by Greenlots, EV Connect, and many of the largest global CSPs, as well as BMW.

Observing Results and Driving Adoption

By selecting vendors focused on storing and sharing data in a standard format, Electrify America will be able to see what is happening across its network, regardless of which vendor’s equipment is being used or which CSP is managing the equipment. For example, it will be able to track patterns of how electricity consumption from PEVs is influenced by weather, how the hourly load impact differs by region, or how charger utilization in different geographies can inform future investments in charging infrastructure.

While not all EV CSPs have embraced the notion of standardizing and sharing data, the size of Electrify America’s investment will likely encourage greater adoption of this notion from charging companies looking to get in on the action of VW’s substantial investments. The next formidable hurdle is for automotive manufacturers to also embrace open charging data. It is an encouraging step that Britta Gross of GM is among the participants in the Alliance for Transportation Electrification. Industry observers will be watching to see who joins this movement next.

 

Smart City Technology Helping Low Income Residents, Too

— January 23, 2018

Particularly in the developing world, there are valid concerns that smart cities could exacerbate the digital divide and primarily benefit wealthier residents. However, a number of emerging companies and initiatives demonstrate that smart city technology can also be utilized for digital inclusion, citizen empowerment, and to increase low income residents’ access to essential city services such as transportation and healthcare.

Key Company and Project Examples

A new company called Cityblock Health was recently spun out of Alphabet’s urban innovation unit, Sidewalk Labs. Cityblock raised over $20 million from a range of investors to help low income Americans access basic health services. Through the company’s Commons platform technology, it will partner with community health centers and partner organizations across the US to reconfigure the delivery of health and social services—and make healthcare services more personalized for qualifying Medicaid or Medicare members. Specifically, the company is targeting issues with misaligned payment incentives (between payers and providers of Medicare and Medicaid), siloed medical and social service delivery, and fragmented data. Cityblock is expected to launch its first Neighborhood Health Hub in New York City in 2018. The Hub will differ from traditional siloed health clinics, using the company’s custom-built technology to merge health services with the community. Caregivers, Cityblock members, and local organizations will all engage with each other in one physical meeting space to discuss and solve local health challenges. Cityblock will be an interesting startup to follow as it aims to integrate primary care, behavioral health, and social services all under one roof.

Another significant example of the potential for smart city technology to help low income communities (and further explained in one of my previous blogs) is Columbus, Ohio’s proposal for the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. One of the primary reasons the city won the Challenge—and beat out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver—was due to Columbus’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options. Additionally, Microsoft, along with its partners G3ict and World Enabled, launched the Smart Cities for All Toolkit in spring 2017 as part of its broader city engagement program. The toolkit is designed to help city officials and urban planners make more digitally inclusive and accessible smart cities. Tools developed for cities include a guide for adopting information and communication technology (ICT) accessibility standards and a guide for ICT accessible procurement policies.

Project Design and Implementation Crucial

These examples demonstrate that smart city technology can be used to the benefit of low income residents—whether it’s increasing access to crucial services such as healthcare and transport, or helping to bridge the digital divide. Policymakers must be vigilant when designing and implementing smart city programs, ensuring that technology deployments will extend to and directly benefit low income residents and neighborhoods in their city. Specific projects designed for low income communities (e.g., providing transport between high unemployment neighborhoods and nearby job centers) should be pursued as part of a city’s broader smart city strategy whenever possible.

 

Detroit Auto Show Stars Fund Future Promised at CES

— January 18, 2018

For many of us that keep tabs on the automotive industry for a living, the first 2 weeks of January are among the most grueling of the year. The North American International Auto Show in Detroit has kicked off the year for several decades. And in the past 10 years, International CES in Las Vegas has become an increasingly important addition to our schedule as the two events run back to back. The announcements at 2018’s shows illustrated some of the crucial interconnections between the growth of technology and the transportation business.

For automakers, CES has largely been a place where they talk about future technologies and try to shift the media’s perception of them from being old-fashioned metal benders to forward-thinking visionaries. They rarely show actual new products, instead focusing on automated and connected concept vehicles. The Detroit show, like most other auto shows, targets consumers that are buying vehicles in the coming year.

For an industry that is facing the biggest transformation in more than 100 years, this is a crucial time. While many recent auto shows have highlighted new plug-in and hybrid vehicles, there were almost none in Detroit this year. Instead, the biggest announcements came from the Detroit-area manufacturers, and they were all pickup trucks—mostly full-size. Fiat Chrysler unveiled the redesigned 2019 Ram 1500. Chevrolet brought out a new from the ground up Silverado, and Ford launched a diesel version of the F-150 and a midsize Ranger pickup.

Profit in Pickups

Pickups are a segment that is likely to be among the last to gain highly automated driving capabilities, as discussed in Navigant Research’s Market Data: Automated Driving Vehicles forecast and its Leaderboard reports. However, those automation technologies were a major topic of conversation in Las Vegas, particularly in the context of whether manufacturers will build new business models around these costly, complicated, support-intensive vehicles.

That’s why pickups are so important to Detroit. They are the profit engines that keep this industry humming along while indirectly funding R&D efforts that will create the next big things. Part of why Ford is bringing the Ranger back to North America is that the average selling price of an F-150 is now more than $58,000. Pickups and large SUVs generate far more profit per vehicle than any small car and they sell in far larger volumes than any other segment in the American market. Ford is projected to make a full-year 2017 profit of more than $9 billion, largely thanks to sales of nearly 900,000 F-series trucks. Even the third place Fiat Chrysler sold more than 500,000 Ram pickups in 2017.

All three manufacturers are adopting fuel efficiency technologies such as 48 V mild-hybrids, dynamic cylinder deactivation, diesel and active aerodynamics in order to meet fuel economy requirements, as discussed in Navigant Research’s Automotive Fuel Efficiency Strategies report. However, until they all figure out how to make sustainable profits in the new age of mobility, we can rest assured that they will continue pressing ahead with enhancing the customer appeal of these trucks in order to keep the cash flowing to develop the promises made at CES.

 

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