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A Q&A with frog's North American automotive lead Theo Calvin on the Paris Motor Show, frogVentures start up Alto, and what's in store for the future of autonomous mobility.
Q: Can you give us a sneak peek into what visitor’s might find at the Altran and frog booth at this year’s Paris Motor Show?
A: We are excited to present Alto, a new ride-hailing startup that’s a part of our frogVentures portfolio. Every touchpoint of Alto’s service has been choreographed to deliver thoughtful, elegant journeys—from the passenger app to the ride itself. At the booth we’ll be demonstrating user experience concepts and technical features to improve on the ride-hailing experience. For example, Alto includes a feature that allows users to easily find their arriving vehicle by illuminating the exterior with the tap of a button. Because Alto is more deeply integrated into the vehicles themselves, passengers can control the music and volume directly from their app. Visitors at our booth will be able to see the Alto experience in action with our live production Beta code and vehicle we’ve shipped to Paris.
We’re also proud to be showing alongside our parent company, Altran, which has deep automotive expertise, particularly in Europe. With Altran’s engineering expertise, we are well positioned to scale our innovative product design and strategy to new heights. Altran will also be showing multiple, exciting new auto projects, including a driverless, rapid transport “people mover,” that they designed and engineered with 2getthere, as well as a small autonomous, multi-use city car for moving both people and parcels. Another demonstration focuses on an immersive 3D Human Machine Interface concept for use in a car.
Q: Alto is attempting to upset the already booming ride-hail industry, going up against giants like Uber. What makes this moment ripe for auto disruptors like Alto?
A: Uber, Lyft and Didi have proven there is consumer demand for ride-hailing services. They’ve reached an impressive scale, but the overall industry continues to grow rapidly. They haven’t won those new riders yet. With all the press the big guys get, it’s easy to forget they’ve captured, at most, about 2% of vehicle miles traveled in the US. There are many trip types still being driven in personal cars and plenty of potential users that are not yet regular users of hailing for any trips at all. The way the major players entered the market allows them to focus on convenience. Wait times are driven down by allowing less reliable cars and drivers to increase the size of the network. There’s a great opportunity to focus on consumers that factor experience – safety, elegance, consistency – into their decision. Many of those people exist in segments underserved by the incumbents. Even among regular users of the current hailing options, there’s not a lot of loyalty. In our qualitative research with TNC customers, we heard story after story of users opening both Uber and Lyft and deciding based purely on price. Defection is easy. Differentiation is low. There is plenty of room for competition.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the frog and Alto partnership?
A: Alto is one of frog’s largest Venture projects to date and captures the depth of our ability to help our clients get new products, services or even whole companies to market. Designing and developing the service has touched on nearly every capability offered by frog, including qualitative research, brand strategy, place-making, industrial design, digital design and development. The other strategic partners Alto has brought to the table makes the collaboration really rewarding. They truly are amassing world-class talent to launch this company. You can tell from the quality of these partnerships that this isn’t a small local startup. This is a global startup in an early local stage.
Q: What are some of the biggest trends you expect to see at this year’s Paris Motor show?
A: 2018 is shaping up to be a huge year for electric vehicles. Several premium tier OEMs released their responses to Tesla. Jaguar started with the iPace in May. Porsche’s gorgeous Mission-e was announced in August. Just this fall, Mercedes and Audi have also released important, mass-scale electric cars. I’m excited for a chance to see these cars and their software interfaces in person.
In terms of market trends, there’s a new class of Chinese-funded startups making waves internationally, and are maturing with amazing speed. Some great examples include Byton, SF Motors, NIO, Lynk & Co, and Future Faraday. GAC, China’s 6th largest car maker, has announced that they will be attending the Paris Motor Show. The rumors that they may be announcing a new electric concept car are exciting. Also notable are some car manufacturers not attending as traditional exhibitors, among them are VW, Nissan, Volvo and Ford. The competitive pressures that dictate whether a car succeeds or not have changed dramatically with the introduction of connectivity and digital services. To keep up with this trend, the Paris Motor Show now includes prominent space for connected mobility. I anticipate seeing novel micro-mobility solutions, ride-sharing, rental, insurance, maintenance, fueling, tolls and more.
Q: What is one misconception about autonomous mobility that you’d like to correct?
A: Autonomous cars will not arrive suddenly, capable of doing everything we’d like them to do. It will take years for their impact on the ride-hailing market to become clear. On one hand, self-driving cars are a lot closer to reality than many people realize. This year has seen some autonomous vehicle R+D projects actually become commercially available. For example, at CES in Las Vegas, Lyft and Aptiv conducted a pilot program that allowed passengers to opt into a self-driving car. While it began as a technical demonstration, it’s since stayed, meaning right now in Las Vegas, Lyft passengers can book an autonomous car rather than a driver.
However, these autonomous vehicles still face many challenges, including speed and safety. Many self-driving cars can still only reach top speeds of around 35mph, still need a human to oversee from the driver’s seat and are highly geo-fenced to small neighborhoods or routes. For autonomy to deliver on the lower cost rides for ride-hailing by removing the driver, we have to get the human safety minder out of the vehicle. And that may be farther away than we think. Just take the Lyft/Adaptiv model: the driver is not only there to take over in extreme measures, they also have to turn on the blinker—which is just one of many little features still not integrated into the automated process.
Theo Calvin will join the Alto and Altran teams at the Paris Motor Show October 2-6, 2018.
Illustration by Simon Abranowicz
frog is a global design and strategy firm. We transform businesses at scale by creating systems of brand, product and service that deliver a distinctly better experience. We strive to touch hearts and move markets. Our passion is to transform ideas into realities. We partner with clients to anticipate the future, evolve organizations and advance the human experience.