BARCELONA -- Cooperation, customer focus and profitability should be priorities as traditional car companies expand into mobility services, industry experts said.
Automakers are increasingly experimenting with mobility offerings such as car-sharing as they work out how to counter start-ups such as ride-hailing company Uber, but the problem is figuring out how to make money.
"We all know the profitability is not so easy. Even for Uber it's not easy," PSA Group's head of mobility services, Brigitte Courtehoux, said during a panel discussion on Wednesday at the Automotive News Europe Congress here.
PSA's Free2Move mobility platform is profitable after it incorporated fleet and business leasing services alongside its consumer car-share offering, Courtehoux said.
PSA already has 400,000 vehicles leased and 50,000 vehicles under fleet management under its Free2Move corporate program. "The corporate part is very important for us, it's an easy way to be profitable," she said. PSA has said it wants Free2Move to become the "preferred global mobility provider" by 2030.
For Volkswagen Group's Seat brand, the key to higher take-up and increased revenue from mobility services is to collaborate with other partners to make the services as useful as possible for consumers, said Leyre Olavarria, Seat's head of connected car and Infotainment.
Seat has signed an agreement with authorities in its home city of Barcelona to exchange data with the city, for example to help with rerouting cars around traffic jams or informing drivers of civic events so that they can avoid traffic hot-spots.
Collaboration with cities is also key to VW-owned Italdesign's idea to speed up transport in congested cities using flying cars.
Italdesign and Airbus have developed a flying car concept called the Pop.Up. It has a self-driving chassis with a passenger pod that be lifted by a drone-style helicopter unit and transported above city traffic.
Cities need to see the benefit to make this futuristic plan work, Italdesign CEO Joerg Astalosch said. "If you don’t design systems to help people you're just selling another car and cities won’t promote it," he said.
In the future, the booking platform that connects different types of transport for a single journey must be hassle free. "Right now, it's not," Astalosch said.
Kristin Schondorf, EY's global automotive and transportation mobility leader, said car companies currently build their businesses on brands with distinct products rather than on services and that could limit them as branding becomes less important.
She gave the examples of Uber and car rental companies, where the customer is buying into the quality of service, and not the brand of car the customer will ride in or rent. That means car companies should engage more with the customer to become a true service provider. "I think that this direct relationship has got to be accelerated in the future," Schondorf said.