Car Sharing 2.0: Audi Unite

One of the most fascinating aspects of the connected car is the way in which it enables new business models as well as new products and services.

I’ve written elsewhere about car sharing so I won’t rehearse all the issues here. It’s provided by a wide range of companies. Some are conventional rental companies who are using connectivity to develop new service models; ZipCar, probably the best known car sharing company, is owned by Avis. Here the cars are owned by a company and rented out on a time basis. Car sharing is just a bit more flexible, and a bit less labour intensive, than a conventional renting business.

Other like RelayRides are much more of a P2P online marketplace, like Airbnb for cars, connecting individuals who don’t mind making their cars available to strangers with people who want to flexibly borrow a car for a short time. These are potentially much more disruptive, though of course they might fail, as the UK’s WhipCar did.

But some mainstream car manufacturers are already dipping a toe into the turbulent waters of providing ‘mobility as a service’ rather than selling boxes on wheels.  An intriguing new twist on car sharing has come from Audi; its Audi Unite service, launched in Sweden, offers a ‘personalised micro-sharing’ proposition whereby a group of individuals can collectively lease a vehicle from the company, and a combination of cloud platform, smartphone application and local signalling beacon can be used to measure the usage and share the costs.

Audi promises “transparent and convenient cost splitting between the members of the Audi unite group.” The group can decide if they would like to split the fixed cost of the car (e.g. leasing fee, insurance, tax, winter tires, service, cleaning) evenly or according to the individual usage behaviour, which most of the group chose as the option. This means, that whenever a group member books the car, drives with the car or parks it outside of the individually defined homezone, the time gets accounted to his/her bill. The unused time when the car is parked in the homezone and therefore available for the group is split evenly between all group members. Group members use a fuel card to fill up the car whenever needed and all costs are divided according to mileage.

The service concept is smart, yet also a bit weird. It’s tempting to characterize the idea as well suited to the age of automotive austerity, in which young people are increasingly delaying car purchase or avoiding it altogether.

But Audi is presenting Unite as a ‘premium’ service, and it is in essence a way to market new cars. A wide range of not-cheap vehicles are available in the program. In the company’s words, it is “concentrating on the specific requirements of premium customers. Many of them are finding the ‘shareconomy’ an inspiring idea – but out of a very specific motivation: They share not because they can’t afford something or simply want to get from A to B, but because they believe in and enjoy the shared experience.” It’s worth noting that ‘fair splitting’ has been identified by some commentators as one of the big trends for 2015.

Audi acknowledges that it doesn’t really know how this is going to turn out: “We are therefore working on new additional mobility products that offer greater flexibility while fulfilling the brand’s premium standards. We are currently in a test phase with these formats and are gathering feedback from our customers in a variety of markets so that we can examine the business case for us the manufacturer and for our dealers.”

In any case, it is a bold and brave move that deserves two cheers and further watching.

Voice quality on Skype over 4G

Earlier this week I needed to join a Skype call but found myself in central London. I mainly use Skype from my laptop, over WiFi and a fixed broadband connection, with a dedicated headset. But I didn’t have my laptop with me. I’d installed Skype on my Android phone, and might have used it over WiFi in a cafe – only the cafes are all a bit noisy. So I tried Skype over 4G as I walked about the back streets of Bloomsbury, trying to find places that were quiet and not too windy. I’m on an ‘unlimited’ data deal from 3, so why not?

I was surprised how good it was. The voice quality was really good at my end – not sure how I sounded at the other end. I know it’s not always good on Skype, but it was a lot better than the kind of voice quality that I get on telephony on the mobile network these days. Can’t help wondering what the point of the QoS on VoLTE is meant to be.

Crowd-sourced platform to grass up bad drivers

Part of a growing trend towards technology-facilitated denunciations, but no less fun for that; Rishi Spot is an app that lets you not only report traffic hazards and obstructions but also ” a mobile application helping people to report traffic violations in real time simply by taking a picture or video of the incident.”

Heavy on the acronyms – RISHI is Road Information And Safety By Human Intelligence and SPOT stands for Site of Problem Occurrence Trends.

Really good paper about “peak car”

Is here. Suggests that the decline in car ownership, usage, etc. is not only due to recession but also structural and behaviour change. Bearing in mind my earlier post about the rich walking to work, and looking at this rather interesting video from Javier Caletrio about elite forms of mobility, is it possible that “not-driving” is also an example of taste transfer from the rich to the merely comfortable?