BY CHRISTOPH MEYER
ME 302C - The Future of the Automobile - Mobility Entrepreneurship is a Stanford course taught by Reilly Brennan and Stephen Zoepf in Spring 2017. This course will feature a series of guest speakers across the spectrum of the mobility industry, with Pearl, Turo, and Lyft featured among others.
In order to provide an inside view to mobility enthusiasts not enrolled in the course, I will be publishing a weekly post on the CARS blog. These posts will feature a high level summary of a brief discussion with each of the guest speakers. While the content shared in the classroom will be kept confidential and off-the-record, I will interview them for 15-20 minutes afterwards. I may probe them on topics that were covered in class but the interviewee will have the discretion as to how they answer. The goal will be to learn more about their companies as well as delve into the speakers’ views on general trends in the industry and predictions of where things are headed.
Keep your eyes out for these weekly updates - full speed ahead!
Interview with Andre Haddad, CEO of Turo
Andre provided a unique perspective during class and my interview with him. As a non-founding CEO, he came into Turo (previously RelayRides) and had a profound impact on the business. He changed the strategy, abandoned the focus on hardware, and led a name change and rebranding effort. Hearing Andre was a powerful reminder of how important experience can be in the transportation sector. With so much focus on digitization and automation, it’s easy to forget that mobility is still a powerful human experience, not just a way to get from A to B. As much of the industry will go in the direction of automation and commoditization, there are still deep human emotions that need to be satisfied: connection and wonder. Turo has managed to succeed in large parts due to this human-focused approach. Going forward, it will be fascinating to see how other players think about these elements while focusing on efficiency and execution.
Q: How do see you the industry evolving with so much focus on technology while you have emphasized human interaction in your company?
“I think there is a place for both. In our business, the reality is that car rental is a human experience. However, a lot of the industry has become a commodity and is not focused on the human experience. This part should be automated in order to make it as easy and convenient as possible. However, in other parts of our lives, we want connection. We are humans. As things get more commoditized in the longer term and thus robotized, there will still be a need for special and memorable experience. People will want some trips to be distinctive - look at the car enthusiasts. These are people who gift each other rides with Turo. They share photos and build a community. They are looking to remember these moments and find meaning. Vacation travel is similar - people want to remember these special moments.
Q: How do you think the difference between driving for commuting and driving for leisure evolves in the future?
“Over time, autonomy will allow us to focus more on experience. We will no longer have to attend to the non-memorable experiences in a vehicle. Commuting, traffic, and all the other aspects of transportation we currently dislike will be taken care of. Autonomy will be there during the tedious moments and allow us to be in a different state of mind, where we don’t have to actively engage. I believe travel/transportation experiences in the future will be a sum of 1) undifferentiated / commoditized experiences and 2) differentiated / unique experiences. People will have different ratios and find their equilibrium. They will continue to search for fun and memories from their transportation experiences.
Q: What role will human interaction play in some of the automated services?
“I don’t think every transaction needs a human interaction. When you take an Uber, this is a commodity experience. There is rarely a special bond with the driver that would really change your experience. A robot could drive you and that would make little difference. However, in a different context, a conversation and interaction really is important. With Turo, for instance, it really is important. When people borrow my car on Turo, they are looking for an experience. They ask me for advice on where to drive and what to do. This is a situation where people want to have a conversation. When going from point A to B, they probably don’t want to engage and that’s okay. Conversation and connection is not relevant every time. Traveling and going from point to point are very different but they complement each other.
Q: How will automation impact your company?
“We are thinking a lot about this. Short term, we don’t see a major impact. We will see Level 4 in five years and nobody knows how long it will take to achieve Level 5. While some view automation as a threat, it can be a major opportunity for us. Level 5 will make sharing of vehicles much easier. Imagine how much more the car can be shared and thus used if it drives itself to the next user. On Turo, this would mean no intervention from the hosts at all - they wouldn’t have to worry. Of course, we would still want to preserve human interaction. But there are many ways to do that. We will leverage technology to achieve connection in impactful ways, such as having video conferences or virtual in-vehicle communication.