Automakers experimenting with new mobility services are increasingly turning to a little-known French company to provide the brains behind their fledgling operations.
Rather than designing systems themselves, automakers are using a technology platform made by Vulog to manage their fleets, understand how customers are utilizing their vehicles and design customer-facing apps. Over the past year, the likes of Volkswagen and PSA Group have used the platform to handle their short-term rental services -- VW's WeShare and PSA's Free2Move.
Last week, Hyundai became the latest to tap Vulog, which will provide the hardware and software needed to run the automaker's Mocean short-term rental fleet in Los Angeles, beginning by the end of this year and gradually expanding to roughly 300 vehicles.
"We've really become a gateway and catalyst for making these services happen," said Alex Thibault, general manager for Vulog's North American operations.
It's not only automakers. Vulog has 15 partners that run the gamut from moped companies such as Dashee, to Getaround, which has deployed two-person lightweight EVs for sharing in Europe. Any company interested in running a shared fleet can utilize the platform.
Currently, Vulog's technology underpins operations in more than 30 cities on five continents. At a time when some companies are scaling back their shared-mobility ambitions, the company anticipates significant expansion next year. Thibault said the company will support operations in 60 cities by the end of 2020.
That expansion is, at least partly, driven by new regulations in Europe, where stringent new emissions rules will go into effect at the start of the new year. Electrified, shared fleets may help automakers reach targets.
Another factor may be an influx of shared, multimodal services. This past year, Vulog updated its software to allow for its clients to offer multimodal services within a single app. Thibault suggests that's a key growth area, as customers can combine both reservation-based and instant-access transportation.
"Demand is really coming from everywhere," he said. "I would say, pound for pound, we should see 50 to 100 percent growth in North America, and 50 to 100 percent growth in Europe."
Los Angeles might be an early litmus test to see whether those projections hold. City dwellers are fleeing the county's public-transportation options. A Los Angeles Times story from June said ridership has "hemorrhaged bus riders," as more people are driving their own cars, even amidst the region's well-documented traffic.
For car sharing, the sprawling nature of the area presents further unknowns, as most cities see distinct patterns emerge related to movement from downtown cores to outer rings.
"We're really excited about the Los Angeles market, because it has very different user behavior and lots of elements we're interested in learning more about," Thibault said. "For a platform like ours, we want to kick the tires and try them in this market, maybe the most interesting market in the world."
-- Pete Bigelow