Insights

Mobility Talks with Mel: Danielle Grossman

Even as we’re practicing social distancing during this time, I believe there’s still a great sense of community within our mobility network. I wanted to find a way to keep that synergy moving during this interim period, and one of the ways I’ve been doing that it is by connecting with my network. We’ve been checking up on each other to see how we’re doing, what’s going well and how we can help each other during this phase.

Wunder Mobility clients and other operators in the community have come together to collaborate, innovate and be proactive in this challenging landscape. In the interest of that, I’m creating a new blog series where I chat with some of my former colleagues and friends within mobility to get their insights, which will help us all come out strong together. If you’re interested in participating or sharing your own insights, please reach out.

Today, I’ll be talking to Danielle Grossman, a former colleague of mine and a great friend who has an impressive and enviable track record within mobility, especially when it comes to car sharing. I wanted to see what she could share with us from her experience, as well as what she’s been hearing in her conversations with operators looking to enter the marketplace. She is someone I count on often for guidance and expertise, so I’m sure you will also enjoy hearing from her learnings and observations.

Here we go!

Danielle is an experienced leader within mobility, having worked at and consulted for multiple companies within the on-demand mobility space. During her career, she launched both the Los Angeles and San Diego markets for Zipcar, ultimately becoming their Regional General Manager of Southern California.

During her 5 years at Zipcar, she wore many hats: she led many pilot programs and RFPs for the company, reaching a total of nearly 50 universities, transportation agencies and municipalities. Post-Zipcar, she helped set up operations for Envoy carshare and then went on to manage the strategic growth of GM’s Maven carshare subsidiary, managing partnerships with residential and university channels. During her time at Maven, she was instrumental in implementing, launching and growing the peer-to-peer program.

Danielle’s extensive experience within mobility has been utilized to create strategic plans and execution of products, markets and verticals. Her relationships with government agencies, operators and partners has made her an asset for companies looking for her type of experience for consulting on new operations and pivotal product launches.

Danielle holds a B.A. in journalism from Cal State Long Beach and an MBA in entrepreneurship from Loyola Marymount University. For more insights on Danielle, you can find her here on LinkedIn.

We’re very excited to have Danielle share her knowledge with us and give us some insights on car sharing and the mobility landscape.

Thanks for taking the time to give us your insights. We’re always looking for experts like yourself to give us your take on mobility and beyond so we can pass on the knowledge. Before we dive into it, can you please tell us how you got into mobility?

I first learned of car sharing while taking a social entrepreneurship class in grad school. Back then, nothing like that existed here in Southern California. Three months later, a friend sent me a job posting from Zipcar that said they were looking for a marketing manager to launch the Los Angeles market.

I was overseeing marketing and branding for two Whole Foods stores and had spent four years in healthcare prior to that, so the idea of continuing to work for a mission-focused company while having an opportunity to merge with the technology industry was very appealing. I met with the GM, Jeff Shields, and I knew I had to be a part of bringing car sharing to SoCal.

Since you’re an expert on car sharing, having run Zipcar Southern California, worked at Maven, and helped consult on the launch of Hyundai’s MoceanLab, can you tell us more about the different types of car sharing? What would an operator have to do differently to run a free-floating platform vs. scheduled rentals, for example?

There are really two main types of car sharing: station-based and free-floating. With station-based, cars are parked in designated spots around the city and can be rented by the hour or day. A car is reserved in advance for a designated amount of time and then returned to its designated “station” when the reservation ends. With free-floating, cars “float” around the city, usually within a five-mile radius. They charge by the minute or hour and don’t need a reservation. The free-float model also allows cars to be dropped off anywhere within the designated radius, or home area.

Car sharing is truly a complimentary service to public transportation.

As an operator, you really should choose one or the other, as the system requirements and backend software needs are quite different. Overcomplicating it will be confusing to users as well as for operations.

In a free-floating model, for example, you would need to be able to geofence in order to prevent cars from ending their trips outside the home area. Advanced reservations are needed for the station-based model. Operationally, you need many more cars to launch a successful free-floating model than you need to launch a station-based one.

A trend we’re seeing within car sharing is the ability to have a “subscription” format where customers can buy packages or “subscriptions” as a daily, weekly or monthly service. This helps bring recurring revenue to the operator while giving flexibility to the customer. This can also be referred to as “credits.” We’re seeing this within micromobility as well.

Yes, we’re seeing that as well. One of our clients, Purdy Motors in Costa Rica, is doing exactly that. Seems like an ongoing trend within car sharing, especially within the dealer networks. On that note, where do you see car sharing headed in the coming months? What trends seem interesting to you?

I think that is really hard to predict right now, given that the world is in the middle of an unprecedented crisis. In the short term, we may see people in large cities that rely on public transportation (New York, San Francisco, and DC) opt to take car sharing over public transportation to reduce risk. I think there are a lot of opportunities out there, but the trend is still catching up in the US.

Even in a large city like Los Angeles, there’s still relatively low awareness around car sharing. I’ve been singing the car share gospel for more than 8 years, and yet every week when someone asks what industry I’m in, I also have to educate them on what car sharing is. It’s mind boggling!

Right now, the trends that are both interesting as well as disappointing are the closures and cutbacks of so many operators in the United States. I still believe there is a huge need for car sharing. We’ve become so reliant on ride sharing, when in reality car sharing is actually better for cities. Not only does it reduce car congestion, but it also gets people to walk, bike, and use public transportation more. Car sharing is truly a complimentary service to public transportation.

We need to brainstorm on how to strike a balance that allows operators to thrive.

I believe we will see an uptick of car sharing happening again in the US, but starting out smaller and expanding as needed, rather than starting in 15 markets with 2,500 cars on Day 1. We can start to see cities looking to pilot car sharing services as a complement to traditional transportation options. Also, all electric car sharing fleets are becoming more popular as well and moving in the trend of the market with electrification.

I can definitely commiserate here: I gave up my car because of all the mobility options available to me now. I’m optimistic we will see more operators out there, especially in Los Angeles. To piggyback on that last question, what areas of mobility do you think are being overlooked or what interesting trend(s) within mobility will take off in the future?

One of the key areas being overlooked is operating in smaller cities. Everyone who launches a new car, bike, or scooter share tends to target the same cities. I know there are smaller cities that would love to have more mobility options. The problem is that this is a very asset heavy business, and it’s costly to launch a new market, so there has to be an incentive from the city to help with that.

Cities have to balance providing services with paying for them and generating money to keep things going. In large cities right now, the cost of permits for these mobility operators can be prohibitive. I think it’s been an important factor for the closure of some operators and markets within the mobility industry. If we want the operators in this industry to survive - which we know is very costly - we need to start brainstorming ideas on how to strike a balance that allows operators to thrive.

In terms of the future, I think we will continue to see the industry evolve. Not just with technology, i.e. electric vehicles, but also with operational efficiencies and new forms of transportation. I’m really looking forward to seeing what will come along.

Agreed. There is definitely something to be said here.

We’re seeing that operating in secondary or tertiary markets has been quite successful for some operators like Blue Duck, for example, or others like Arnab in Dubai, who have higher utilization and for longer periods of time.

Also, Revel Mopeds has started out in the outskirts of major cities, in areas like Brooklyn or Oakland, and then built their markets that way. As a result, they’ve been having good utilization and optimal growth. These cities are looking for providers in their markets to help with the first mile/last mile problem and to keep their cities attractive to their residents.

Ok, last question: how are you staying sane and productive during the self-quarantine? All tips appreciated!

Ha! I don’t think any of us are sane, but I try to maintain some semblance of my former routine like doing my daily journaling as well as completing 10-minute meditations every day. Additionally, I try to take some walks outside.

I’m trying to make the most of it by learning new skills, such as being a homeschool teacher and a pastry chef (I make some mean chocolate chip cookies). Oh, and lots of wine helps, too!

Sounds great. When we’re allowed to be together again, I’ll bring the wine and you make the cookies!

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