Navigant Research Blog

Automotive Subscription Services May Aid in EV Adoption and Software Updates

— October 19, 2017

When Karl Benz went for his first test drive in 1886, the automobile changed the way that we live in ways that were unimaginable. Over the course of the 20th century, motor vehicles expanded our horizons, making travel easier and more affordable than it had ever been. The need for vehicles to keep pace with always advancing technologies like automation and connectivity will probably end personal vehicle ownership for most of us in the coming decades, but only after manufacturers create business models that replace individual sales. One increasingly popular approach is vehicle subscriptions.

Pro and Cons of Auto Subscriptions

The idea of getting customers to subscribe rather than purchase products outright has been an appealing one for companies in many markets. From the provider’s perspective, creating a recurring revenue stream is good for business and helps to add some predictability for planning purposes. For certain businesses such as software, recurring subscription revenue can be hugely important to help fund ongoing development and product improvement.

For automakers that have endured some spectacular market cycles over the years, the prospect of stable monthly revenue is particularly enticing. As automobiles become more software-defined, the prospect of continuous recalls to update bugs and security vulnerabilities is something of a nightmare scenario if automakers can’t charge customers for those fixes.

For customers, on the other hand, the thought of a perpetual monthly car payment is significantly less appealing. Thus, automakers have to strike the right balance between what customers have to pay and what they get in return.

Early Movers

Enter the car subscription model. In the United States, Porsche is the latest company to announce a subscription service, joining Cadillac, Volvo, and Atlanta-based startup Clutch. Porsche Passport and Cadillac Book are the most similar. For a flat monthly rate that includes insurance, registration, taxes, and maintenance, subscribers can choose to drive any of the vehicles available from those brands. Porsche offers two price tiers. The entry-level $2,000 per month plan gives access to the Boxster, Cayman, Macan, and Cayenne, while the $3,000 tier lets subscribers pick any current Porsche.

Clutch is similar, but rather than being restricted to a single brand, the company works with dealer groups to build local fleets of a broader range of vehicle types from multiple brands. Clutch currently offers three price tiers, each with more expensive vehicles. Care by Volvo is structured more like Apple’s iPhone upgrade program. Rather than allowing drivers to swap cars at any time, the Volvo plan is similar to a lease that includes maintenance, insurance, and registration but allows customers to switch vehicles annually.

Promise for the Future

These early subscription models are aimed at more affluent premium customers who are more likely to stomach a relatively high monthly fee. However, if these models prove popular, mainstream brands are likely to follow suit with similar programs. Regardless of the price point and brand, the recurring revenue provides an opportunity to fund continuing software updates. The inclusion of maintenance and regular vehicle swaps will provide an opportunity to keep vehicles fresh. Once over-the-air software updates become common, shop visits for those updates will become unnecessary.

Window to Increasing PEV Use

In addition to regular updates, the subscription model also provides automakers with another opportunity to increase plug-in EV (PEV) use. Customers that might not otherwise make a multiyear commitment to a PEV may be more willing to try one as part of a subscription, especially if they can skip a traditional dealer in the process. The transportation business is changing, and we’ll see plenty more experiments before everything settles out.

 

ITS Applications as a Key Element of the Smart City

— October 5, 2017

Coauthored by Ryan Citron

As urban areas see increasingly ubiquitous connectivity, opportunities for intelligent transportation system (ITS) applications are growing. ITS is a mature market and is a standard part of public agencies’ planning and operations tool kits. However, with individuals now continually online through mobile devices and the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), ITS applications are growing in complexity and sophistication. ITS applications are also being tied into the broader smart city movement, which includes all aspects of city services, such as energy, buildings, water, and waste management.

Consumer Expectations

Consumers of transportation services increasingly expect dynamic real-time information on and access to a range of mobility options. At the same time, cities and other transportation agencies want visibility into all aspects of the transportation landscape and the ability to respond in real-time. The increasing availability of real-time data on traffic and transit services is providing new tools to city managers for both operation optimization and new services to users. In Helsinki, for example, the bus service operator Helsingin Bussiliikenne Oy (HelB) worked with IT services company CGI to improve its competitiveness through the use of sensors and data analytics on service performance.

Observing ITS Applications

Navigant Research’s recent report on the ITS market, Intelligent Transportation Systems, focuses on advanced ITS applications such as active traffic management, advanced traveler information services, and solutions that provide single access to a range of transportation modes.

While these types of services have the potential to provide significant benefits in improved mobility, reduced congestion, lower emissions from vehicle traffic, and optimized use of space within a city, most public agencies are still exploring how and at what pace they can incorporate advanced ITSs into their transportation systems. There are issues of cost, which can be significant, along with inadequate funding levels, complexity of data aggregation and analysis, and difficulty getting coordination across multiple agencies with responsibility for transportation and infrastructure. Cities that have led the way in adopting advanced ITS services can be useful guides to what works in different city environments.

Examples of City ITS Innovations

The Smart Cities Pavilion that will be open at the 2017 ITS World Congress is showcasing a handful of cities that have innovated in ITS applications like traffic management, transit services, and integrated mobility. The cities announced as exhibitors are Montreal, Canada (the ITS World Congress host city); Columbus, Ohio; Singapore; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Christchurch, New Zealand. The selection represents a wide range in terms of geography and population size/density from the ultra-dense Singapore with its population of around 5.6 million to the comparatively small city of Christchurch at under 400,000.

It should be interesting to see the similarities and the differences that come with these contrasting environments, as well as how they fit into the broader smart city activities underway in each locale. Event organizers have indicated that the smart cities pavilion will offer experiential exhibitions around the themes of Urban Mobility, Engaged Citizenry, Smart Security, Economic Cluster, and Smart Democracy. These themes go beyond transportation, placing ITS in the larger smart city context that cities are looking to implement.

I will be attending the 2017 ITS World Congress, being held this year in Montreal, from October 29 to November 2. The event features a large roster of speakers and exhibitors covering all aspects of ITSs. See the conference website for more details.

 

Denver RTD Hops on the Electric Bus Line

— October 3, 2017

Commitments to electric buses (e-buses) are ramping up in the United States. Several agencies are bringing in fleets of a few dozen to over 100 e-buses over the next few years. One such agency, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver, is deploying 36 e-buses from Chinese company BYD Motors, Inc. Among the biggest drivers for the interest in e-buses is their increased efficiency. These BYD buses are expected to get 12 MPGe to 14 MPGe, significantly improving on the 3-4 miles per gallon of diesel buses. E-buses also have reduced maintenance costs. RTD says the biggest maintenance issue with these buses are the doors.

BYD Bus Details

Each vehicle costs $750,000; this includes the price of the battery chargers and a lifetime warranty for the lithium iron phosphate batteries. Lithium iron phosphate batteries were chosen for two reasons: they are designed to prevent thermal runaway and the batteries are air-cooled to maintain a narrow range of temperatures.

The buses have a maximum battery capacity of 292 kWh that requires 3-4 hours of charging time, giving them 12-14 hours of continuous use before requiring a charge. This has been demonstrated to provide 200 miles of range at 30-40 mph. However, in operation, the range is closer to 80 miles because buses make frequent stops during the 1.3-mile route.

Incorporating E-Buses into the Fleet

Three-phase alternating current (AC) fast-charging stations were installed for the fleet. The AC-to-direct current (DC) converter is onboard the bus. The lack of fast-charging standards in the United States for heavy duty vehicle e-buses is a challenge, as buses must be coupled with proprietary standards. That being the case, RTD has opted to use European standards. The construction of the charging station cost $432,000; this figure does not include the cost of the battery charging equipment.

Because the new fleet is quieter than traditional buses, they have been outfitted with noise generators (that fluctuates pitch with the vehicle’s speed) to notify pedestrians of their presence when operating along the pedestrian-oriented 16th Street Mall. The buses were ordered in 2015 and manufactured in China; final assembly will take place in Lancaster, California to meet Buy America requirements. As of August 2017, 34 of 36 buses had been delivered. RTD has indicated it hopes to incorporate e-buses in regular operations in the future.

Although the e-bus rollout has been successful to date, RTD reports that few agencies have reached out for advice about implementing their own e-bus fleets. Nevertheless, transit agencies across the United States are taking a good look at e-buses.

Other Market Drivers

While lower operations and maintenance costs are already market drivers, there are other market drivers that will become more prominent and increase the desire for e-bus adoption. Dynamic charging systems would enable buses to carry smaller batteries, decreasing costs. In addition, vehicle automation is well-suited for EVs on fixed routes, including buses. Other market drivers include increasing cities’ targets for air quality and climate change concerns and increased demand for vehicles with a reduced carbon footprint. According to Navigant Research’s recent Market Data: Electric Drive Buses report, electric powertrain buses (including all types of hybrids) are expected to grow from approximately 21% of the total bus market in 2017 to around 22% in 2027.

 

Does Yamaha’s Entry into the US E-Bike Market Signal a Turning Point?

— October 3, 2017

Electric bicycles (e-bikes) continue to be the highest selling EVs on the planet. Navigant Research estimates that a total of nearly 35 million units will be sold globally in 2017. However, the US market has struggled mightily to keep up with its successful European and Asia Pacific counterparts.

Market Percentages

In 2016, just under 1% of total bicycle sales in the United States were attributed to e-bikes—compared to 15.7% in Germany and 24.2% in the Netherlands.

E-Bike Market Share of Total Bicycle Market by Country, Select Markets: 2016-2025

(Source: Navigant Research)

Navigant Research projects that e-bike market share will remain relatively low over the 10-year forecast period (below 4%) in the United States since the country has:

  • Lower gasoline prices compared to most other world regions
  • Poor bicycling infrastructure in many major cities, which are primarily designed for cars
  • Low consumer awareness and relatively high levels of opposition from independent bicycle distributors toward e-bike technology (compared to other world regions)

Turning Point?

In what may be a turning point for the US e-bike industry, Yamaha announced it will begin selling its branded e-bikes through US dealers in 2018. The company has been refining its production of e-bikes for decades, with over 2 million sales in Japan since 1993. The major new US market entrant boasts widespread brand awareness, an expansive dealer network with hundreds of locations in the United States, and large R&D budgets unavailable to most North American e-bike vendors.

Yamaha has shown four models thus far, including the UrbanRush, YDX-TORC, CrossCore, and CrossConnect—spanning racing, mountain, and street cruiser styles.

Impact on the Market

While Yamaha is somewhat late to the manufacturer e-bike party in the United States, the company’s entry is likely to present some challenges for other manufacturers and dealers. In the short term, Yamaha will primarily capture a portion of its sales—with some consumers opting for a trusted brand with hundreds of dealers that are available to market, sell, and service their e-bikes.

However, over the long term, Yamaha’s presence should help propel consumer awareness for e-bikes in the United States more broadly—which will be positive for all vendors left in the market. Similar to Elon Musk urging major automakers to sell more competitive EVs, a bigger e-bike market will increase overall revenue opportunities. Smaller companies would be wise to differentiate their e-bike products from Yamaha’s offerings to avoid losing market share to the more powerful marketing competitor.

 

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