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Main Street: The Front Line of the Mobility Revolution

Bob Peck Chevrolet - courtesy Mia Musolino

The Wall Street Journal last week reported on the rate of consolidation among local and regional auto dealers. Citing a future of electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles on the horizon, the Journal positioned the options of small- and medium-sized dealer groups as “get big” or “get out.”

The Journal's headline grabs attention, but it belies the reality: in a shared mobility future, local operators become a critical link in the value chain. Actually, we may be on the cusp of the greatest shift in local business since the franchise boom of the 1950s. If so, now is the time for enterprising local operators to stake their claim.

Shared mobility requires local fleet management. Without a doubt, shared and autonomous mobility will require a local touch. In its paper called “Islands of Autonomy,” KPMG states, “The transportation market is about to change from a national or regional one to 150-plus [U.S.] island markets – metropolitan areas with their own distinct consumer demands. The change will be profound.”

As Gary Silberg, one of the paper’s authors, points out, “For the carmaker and supplier [in today’s market], the financial implications largely end when the vehicle leaves the factory. The car then becomes mostly someone else's business.” OEM sells to dealer, dealer sells to driver, and the driver becomes responsible for registering, cleaning, servicing, and eventually disposing of the asset.

As sharing goes mainstream, those responsibilities will shift to professionals - and create an enormous business opportunity. Goldman Sachs estimates that fleet managers stand to earn 7 times more for minding shared autonomous vehicles than automakers do for building them!

Mobility markets will be defined by their unique needs. KPMG’s study concludes that each “island,” or metropolitan area with its own distinct consumer needs, “will require a different mix of vehicles and services to match supply and demand.” These distinctions may result from geographic features, population demographics, traffic patterns, local norms, or other factors.

Indeed, tacit knowledge of the community could be the key to delivering a mobility service that fills a critical market need. Local operators, be they established dealers or new entrants, can win by tapping into their local expertise and native networks to design and deploy the services a city needs most. Look no further than the way Bird’s scooters have captivated last-milers in Santa Monica for a recent example.

The solution set of “get big” or “get out” seems extremely narrow, shaped in the assumptions of yesteryear, when small businesses lacked the technology to compete in the connected future. Now, innovative tools make it is easier than ever to build and scale a shared mobility operation, regardless of size. In fact, the agility of smaller companies may help them outmaneuver their larger, slower competitors to market.

Truly, a third option to “get big” or “get out” has emerged for local businesses willing to step boldly into the future of mobility. Change breeds opportunity, so the best option for a local business may be to “get ready” for the chances ahead.

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