General Motors Reimagining Personal Mobility
By Daniel Lai
Imagine a world with no cars parked on the sides of streets, minimal traffic congestion, and picking up a friend from the airport is as simple as ordering an autonomous ride from the safety and comfort of your sofa. That reality is not so far off, automakers say.
Catalyzed by the influx of new technology, Michigan’s OEMs are working feverishly on innovative ways to stay ahead of the mobility game, especially as the face of consumers gets younger and preferences shift away from vehicle ownership in favor of convenience.
Recognizing these changing trends, General Motors Co. exploded out of the gate with a flurry of product and partnership announcements this past year. The strategy was led by GM President Dan Ammann, a former Morgan Stanley investment banker who cut his teeth on Wall Street. That experience coupled with a keen forward-thinking prowess has proven to be a golden ticket for the automaker.
In January, GM announced a $500 million investment in San Francisco-based Lyft to put an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles on the roads in the United States. The partnership leverages GM’s deep knowledge of autonomous technology and Lyft’s capabilities in providing a broad range of ride-sharing services. Three months later, GM and Lyft launched a short-term rental program called Express Drive, which provides vehicles to Lyft drivers for a weekly rate. The service rolled out in Chicago, Baltimore, Boston and Washington, D.C.
GM’s increased focus on personal mobility solutions signals a new culture and bold leadership shift to position Michigan’s automotive industry as a formidable leader in autonomous technology research and development.
“We want to make sure that we’re in position that when (customers) think about mobility, they think about us every single step of the way. We are investing very heavily to define the future of personal mobility in the areas of connectivity, car- and ride-sharing, autonomous driving, alternative propulsion, and of course, all of the new technologies that are required to underpin those developments,” Ammann said during keynote remarks at the 2016 Mackinac Policy Conference.
“That’s really important because as we look at consumer behavior, we see a very clear trend where customers are willing to wait for the right vehicles, for the right level of connectivity before they make their purchase decision, we’re seeing increasing evidence of that every day,” Ammann added.
In addition to the Lyft partnership, GM announced a collaboration with MobileEye to crowd-source advanced mapping data for self-driving cars, introduced the Chevrolet Bolt, the first long-range, consumer-friendly electric vehicle, and unveiled its personal mobility brand, Maven.
Currently in 13 markets throughout the United States, the car-sharing service provides access to highly personalized, on-demand vehicles. Maven customers use its app to search for and reserve a vehicle by location or car type and unlock the vehicle with their smartphone.
“With more than 25 million customers around the world projected to use some form of shared mobility by 2020, Maven is a key element of our strategy to changing ownership models in the automotive industry,” Ammann said.
The Maven team is made up of professionals from Google, Zipcar and Sidecar and led by former Alcoa vice president, Julia Steyn. The Detroiter recently sat down with Steyn to talk about Maven, the future of car-sharing, and GM and Detroit’s next steps in the new mobility era.
How would you describe a Maven user?
It is actually really interesting how Maven customers are very different from the traditional way how we sell cars. First of all, it is very simple because in traditional car sales, it is a one-time transaction and you really market a product. With Maven, we want as much repeat use and as often of a repeat use as possible. We are marketing an overall service and the experience to the customers. Just based on the numbers, Maven customers’ average age is 30 and the average income is above $80,000. We’re talking to the customers that we would not have had in the GM brand family. That’s where Maven is so additive to our traditional brands.
What makes Maven unique in the exploding next-generation mobility scene?
We are, as Maven, building on GM’s competitive strength. That comes first and foremost with the breadth of our portfolio. We have anything from Corvettes and the luxury vehicles and Escalades on one end, to the trucks. We are very fortunate that we can tailor the portfolio to our customers regionally.
Secondly, we obviously have the ability with the connection to the vehicle. We have been doing this with OnStar for a long time to create this very on-demand service. It is not only the app, it is the whole experience … how you interact through the phone and the app, and the same phone opens the vehicle and you kind of bring your whole digital life through what we have put through OnStar in the vehicle as well as the dedicated concierges who can curate anything from safety and finding directions to booking your restaurant or booking your hotel. They are specifically trained to interact with Maven customers.
We are also positioning vehicles where the demand is. Through our two services, Maven Home and Maven City, we track very closely whether these spots are the right ones. We understand where our Maven users are going and how to really tailor the services toward that. I believe that we are quite unique in elevating the whole car-sharing experience to a very different level.
Maven sits at the intersection of “traditional” automotive companies and next-generation mobility and technology firms. In your viewpoint, are traditional OEMs and suppliers ready for this transformation that is upon us?
It is happening as we speak. You kind of have to follow where the customer wants to go with that. I firmly believe that a company like GM has so many assets that are so crucial to the new space. First of all, looking traditionally at our scale, which we are able to do, we can finance the cars. We can obviously build the cars. We understand how to deal with insurance. We actually have been in the forefront of consumer marketing for over a hundred years. It comes in sort of a variety of innovation that has to happen, but the base is there, we are just doing it in a different way.
Technology is the table stakes right now. What is fascinating to me, what is happening in the industry right now in automotive, is a really big convergence of the technology that is just software and app creation with real assets. The consumers need both. They are not just consuming an app, they are consuming a service. They want something that is relevant to their lifestyle. That is why it is so important for us to take the Maven brand to be relevant to that lifestyle. We have customers who have taken Maven (vehicles) almost a hundred times in different geographical areas, so we want to be relevant. Where do they want to go? What do they want to see?
It is almost re-teaching this next generation how to interact with a vehicle in a fun way. The reality is, whether OEMs are ready for it or not, we are ready and we are very aggressively pursuing this strategy.
Major cities across the globe are competing to own next-generation mobility. Assess Detroit’s strengths and weaknesses in this competition.
I’m actually very excited about Detroit. It is clearly a story of revival and renaissance in a very young and modern way. If you look back at where Detroit has been, when you look a hundred years ago, it really was the industrial Silicon Valley. It is coming back. I actually strongly believe that it is important for Maven to ground itself in where we are, and Detroit just has this amazing energy not to give up and be really out there in trying new things. At some level, the city itself doesn’t have much to lose.
I think GM is also a bit like that. I’ve been with the company for close to five years and when I came it was the story of restructuring and survival. Now we are looking at a very different dialogue. I’m very thrilled. Frankly from a talent standpoint, our Maven team comes from all over the world. We speak 20-plus languages and between our team, we have more than 40 startups under our belts, so it is a very entrepreneurial team. Detroit has been an attractive place to come and work. We never lost a single candidate because we were in Detroit. People love the city.
The automotive industry has traditionally had a perception problem. The mobility industry offers technology to solve global issues. What can we do to change the old perceptions with millennials to attract more talent?
I think that Detroit is very much on the way there. I see the revival of some art, the revival of the food culture, and more companies that we have on the cutting edge, whether it is automotive or other industries. Real estate is dramatically changing Detroit and what has been happening; we are very linked with this. I think giving Detroit more credit is good. It needs to continue to be marketed as a destination — as a destination for travel and leisure, as a destination for new companies and new ideas. Nobody should be shy about putting a stake in the ground in that.
How important is it for the startup ecosystem to be in Detroit and around these automotive companies, and what can we do to foster that?
Personally, it has been a very fascinating experience for me to open and start a startup within a 100-year-old company. From the outside it might appear as a very daunting task. In reality, on every level of the corporation we have received tremendous support because I think it permeates not just the senior leadership team but also everybody who sees the industry that we are in the cusp of tremendous changes. People are excited to explore opportunities. In fact, most of the folks who supported our Maven startup did it not as part of their main job, but as something that they really wanted to put their fingerprint on.
I think getting the culture back, you have to move fast. You have to be able to experiment. You have to take ownership of what that looks like in a real commercial way. We at Maven are not about running experiments. We are running a new commercial business, and we are learning tremendous amounts through this and building very new capabilities for the company. I don’t know what can be more exciting. I think it is true for anybody who is going to start something new in Detroit.
What is next for Maven and General Motors?
This year our big push was to really launch a brand and get the exposure and the on the ground operation. We are very much happy with how the year went and how quickly we accomplished that. Next year we are going to be focused on growing our customer base and really deepening the relationships that we have developed throughout the country. A lot of exciting opportunities, a lot of exciting ways to grow.
What do you love most about Detroit and Michigan?
I definitely will not say the weather. I just like the attitude and the grit of the city and the energy and the vibe. I have seen that in New York, but many, many years ago when Brooklyn was hustling and bustling. Now I live downtown in Detroit and even in the past five years I have seen the amazing change in the restaurant scene and a change in who my neighbors have become; it is so cool. I just want to contribute to the growth of the city. I think anything from the art scene to the fashion scene, all of that is so honest and so raw and so sincere that you just have to be amazed in what happens next, so I’m watching.
Daniel Lai is the editor of the Detroiter.