ATLANTA — The family that started Cox Enterprises still has the horse-drawn carriage that company founder James M. Cox used to get from Jacksonburg, Ohio, to Dayton, Ohio.
Some 100 years later, Cox Enterprises, now the largest reconditioner of cars on the planet through its Manheim auction unit, is embracing the near future of transportation by converting a Manheim facility here into a hub for autonomous vehicle testing, fleet servicing and electric-vehicle charging and maintenance. Cox Enterprises CEO Alex Taylor, the founder's great-grandson, noted his grandmother's old London Taxi is even parked in the building.
"Just when we thought we had it all figured out, a whole new wave of technology and a whole new wave of innovation came along, and we are right at the cusp of it, today, as we speak," Taylor said last week as Cox unveiled the revamped center.
It operates under the Cox Automotive Mobility Group umbrella and carries the name of that unit's new mobility brand, Pivet. The center could be a template for expansion under the Pivet brand, which was announced in January. Cox invested up to $3 million converting the 35,000-square-foot former Manheim Metro Atlanta auction space into the new mobility hub.
"Our whole purpose in doing this is, the change in the world is coming," Cox Automotive President Sandy Schwartz told reporters.
No one is certain when autonomous vehicles will be on the road en masse or when the U.S. will see a significant penetration of EVs, Schwartz said. "All I know is we're not going to be caught flat-footed," he added.
The Pivet brand will provide services through Manheim, mobile car-care company RideKleen — which Cox acquired in October — and other businesses both on-site and off-site. Those services include everything from in-fleeting, de-fleeting, cleaning, detailing, fueling and charging, to maintenance, storage, parking and logistics.
Ride-hailing company Lyft has space in the center, and there is a lounge for ride-hailing drivers who are getting their vehicles serviced. Manheim has also partnered with Georgia Power, Lyft and Electrify America to supply EV charging stations where Lyft drivers can recharge for free. Parts of the center are outfitted for dynamic imaging, autonomous-vehicle technology calibration and telematics testing.
Schwartz said he could not say which other auction sites could be converted or when. The Atlanta site was ideal because it's five miles from the city's core and five miles from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, he said. "So strategically, the geographic location [of future sites] has to match," Schwartz said. "We're not going to limit ourselves just to the auctions."
Cox is bullish on the mobility business and expects fleet services to become more vital as more high-use commercial fleets are deployed, resulting in significant increases in miles per vehicle and a more frequent need for service and maintenance. When the company announced its mobility group in August, the company said it expected it to grow to revenue of $100 million to $150 million in the next few years and then balloon into a $5 billion business in a decade.
"As we move to this more fleet-ownership model, we have to service those fleets, and we believe that our [automaker] partners … and dealers — we know they're still going to be in this business somehow, some way," said Alex Fraser, general manager of Atlanta market fleet services for the Cox Automotive Mobility Group. "And we need to continue to serve them."