Zoomcar, India’s largest self-drive mobility platform, was founded in 2013 and has now even expanded to include cycles in its shared mobility model. Greg Moran, Founder and CEO, originally from New York City, has observed and traveled in India on account of his prior job. This has allowed him to have a good handle on some of the commuting challenges present in big cities. Moran tells APF about the changing scenario in terms of mobility and how it shapes the urban and rural spaces in India, including fixing the last-mile and first-mile connectivity problems.
What are Zoomcar’s offerings to the Indian commuter?
Zoomcar has been operational since the past five years now. We started off in 2013, initially, as a car sharing platform where people can rent and drive cars through a mobile application. We gradually evolved to broaden our offering to also include cycles. The Pedl cycle can be used ideally in a 1 to 3 km use-case, which is the preferred range for traveling by a cycle.
How is a self-drive car sharing model different from that of ride-sharing?
The idea of reducing car ownership is really appealing. Ownership becomes burdensome, and in most instances, it is a nuisance. A car owner has to worry about constant maintenance, insurance, parking, cleaning, and other ancillaries and over hangs tied to it. Instead car sharing allows the customer access to a car for any amount of time. This construct is convenient, accessible and affordable.
Unfortunately this model does not work well with two wheelers because the ownership is very high. With most people owning two wheelers, there is a 50 per cent ownership rate across cities. We didn’t want to focus on a model where ownership is high. It doesn’t make sense from a rental standpoint either.
Another reason is the economic model of car sharing. The long term economics a model like car sharing is much more appealing than ride sharing. In ride sharing you have driver cost so you have to burn huge amounts of capital, therefore it is a capital intensive model. Zoomcar’s model doesn’t require as much capital, so it isn’t as intensive.
In Zoomcar’s business model, some of the cars are owned by us, while the rest are owned by individuals. In a month, the vehicle is used by them for a few days after which they put it back on Zoomcar’s platform. It is much more convenient and as a manner of incentivising this, we share do a 75:25 revenue share with the car owners. The 75 per cent goes to them and 25 per cent goes to us.
What is driving the shared mobility trend in urban spaces?
Though shared mobility has been around for some time. But this trend has taken a more material fashion only in the last three to four years. What can be seen here is the macro-sentiment of the under-35 demographic. The ongoing trend in the work force is people changing jobs often. They stay in jobs for one or two years as opposed to 10 to 15 years. Generally, there is more workplace mobility, where people bounce around cities and move to different places. We are seeing a lot more mobility across jobs and across cities. The economic and lifestyle preference of this demographic is about having flexibility, versatility and not being tied down.
People are valuing experiences and the ability to be untethered so that they can go where they want, in they type of vehicle that they want. With self-drive, car sharing, and ride sharing one can have accessibility and real fluidity in daily movement and planning.
Is there the same kind of drive in rural regions as well?
We are running in about 30 cities in India right now, in tier-1 and tier 2 markets. We haven’t looked too much at the tier-3 markets for cars, but as we evolve we can add more cities. On the bicycle side, it gives us kind of a larger reach and allows us to go there a little bit wider in the markets that we touch. We have already observed that by going into smaller cities with cycles.
A lot of these smaller cities or markets like Guwahati and Mangalore, are actually a very profitable market for us, but obviously on a much smaller scale.
So what is the system that is used to keep these cars connected?
We have a very robust IoT platform which involves hardware and software.We have specialised hardware installed in the vehicles themselves so that on one hand you have quite a bit of flexibility in terms of tracking, monitoring, etc. There are also different features where you have remote access to the car so you can unlock the car from your phone. That is something that is hugely different compared to the competition. That is something that we focus on and we are also able to monitor and track the health and wellness of the car. We are also able to understand what is going on and what’s wrong with the critical components, the clutch, the brakes etc. It is really about having an integrated system, which we have been working on for a while now. We also have 24/7 roadside assisstance, which is very streamlined and smooth. If the user is in any trouble, s/he is just one tap away from being connected to the roadside assistance technicians. This is all days of the year, anywhere in the country. I think that gives people a peace of mind. If you have a breakdown someone will come out and tow the car so it's not like you are all on your own. And it usually happens out of station so that is why it's helpful if the tow truck comes in support. This makes it a much better experience.
How does Pedl fix the first mile-last mile connectivity problem?
We are focusing on three things: convenience, access, and affordability. From an affordability stand point it will be 80 to 85 per cent cheaper than a taxi, 70 to 75 per cent cheaper than an auto, and 40 to 50 per cent cheaper than the metro.
When it comes to convenience one can just pick up a cycle from the street and start off by scanning the QR code. It is simple and quick. Commuters can also have accessand can flexibly pick it and drop it. This offers a tremendous substitute for ownership and in this way first mile-last mile is always connected. We have hundreds of pick up points across cities making this offering very hyper local.
As of now we are the market leaders in this space and we are looking to moving it to a couple lakh cycles over the next four to six months.
How will the advent of electric vehicles change the shared mobility scene?
We are one of pioneers on the EV front as we are one of the largest providers of EVs in the country. We have over 500 EVs in our stable in different regions and we are very focused on building this out. Much larger presence EVs are perfect for shared mobility. However, they are still a little bit expensive today due to cost of battery. So far there is no battery manufacturer in India.
Despite all that, EVs are cheap to operate by 80 per cent. When you combine that with shared mobility, the capital cost will make a very strong value proposition. Which is why it is better to have EVs on a platform as opposed to just an individual owning it.
EVs are fast growing and widely accepted but nowhere where they need to be, although there is a wider acceptance at public sector level. There are different policies and even customers have seen what EVs can do.
If you have an industry that is new, you have to treat that industry very differently and be strategic about it than an industry that is already established.
Environmentally, what is the impact of car sharing or cycle sharing?
One car on a monthly basis can carry 80 different passengers in that car. That avoids cost in terms of the amount of people that will own a car. In terms of emission or combustion, there are lower amounts of fuel being emitted, or lower idling time when it comes to cities.
We now have 5,000 cars and we may push to 7,000 or 8,000 next quarter. In that manner we can double our impact in terms of the environmental attribute.
When you look at cycles they are zero emission, there is a totally different outlook. Cycles are better than walking short distances and at the same time reduce the use of fossil fuel. Even if you use a metro or an EV you are still using fossil fuels.
What are the future plans for Zoomcar?
In the future, we are looking at creating a network and a community where people can take multiple forms of self-drive mobility, whether it is cars or cycles and have it all clearly on the sameplatform or application which will make everything convenient, straightforward and simple.
Mobility and transportation are very fluid industries, globally. It is more fluid in India when you see models evolve. Despite that, with mobility it is really hard to predict the future. One thing that you can predict is that people are always going to value convenience and access. They will value that which is affordable and economic and Zoomcar is looking to be at the forefront of that evolution.
People are valuing experiences and the ability to be untethered so that they can go where they want, in the type of vehicle that they want. With self-drive, car sharing, and ride sharing one can have accessibility and real fluidity in daily movement and planning.