This month I had the great opportunity to speak on one of technology’s largest stages – TechCrunch. This year’s TC Sessions, which was hosted in San Jose, was chock full of demos and discussions from today’s mobility leaders. It was a thrill to speak in front of an innovative crowd, but even more thrilling was being able to see the latest mobility technology in action and connect in person with its creators. As our transportation options evolve into a mobility ecosystem that is increasingly multi-modal, connected, intelligent, and efficient, the opportunities and risks are great. As I flew home and processed everything I had experienced, three key thoughts came to mind:
- Fleet management companies are in a unique position to push today’s mobility options forward.Let’s be honest – the auto and fleet industries aren’t usually thought of as being as innovative as the technology sector, and we aren’t typically at the same table as the companies I saw at TechCrunch, which included Uber, Lyft, Porsche Digital, Holoride, Voyage, Scoot, Damon Motors, Segway, and Waymo (interestingly, Merchants Fleet was the only fleet management company represented at TechCrunch). Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, aptly summed it up when he said, “If the auto industry advanced as rapidly as the semi-conductor industry, a Rolls Royce would get half a million miles per gallon, and it would be cheaper to throw it away than to park it.”Looking around at the technology at TechCrunch, and the number of minds working on challenges like autonomous vehicles, mobility ethics, and smart city design, it was clear to me that now is the time for the fleet and auto industries to claim their seat at the mobility table and build new partnerships. We must change the way we think about ourselves and what we offer our clients in order to remain valuable.
- Today’s technologists are eager to find B2B uses for their products.When we think of mobility technology, it’s often in the context of the business-to-consumer market (Uber is just one example of this). However, the opportunity for this technology in the business-to-business market is huge. At the beginning of my session, I asked the audience if anyone was familiar with the term FleetTech. Only a few hands went up, but after they learned about how FleetTech partners like Merchants are focused on aggregating suppliers, platforms, and partners to support companies with fleets, dozens came up to me after the session to learn more. Today’s innovators want to help enterprise clients like fleets find better, more efficient ways to move their goods and services. This is great news, because it means the business world has a willing and eager partner to help them pilot better, more efficient ways to respond to their end users’ transportation needs.
- We still have a long road to full autonomy – but we’re already well on our way.I was having a conversation with Jay Giraud, CEO and founder of Damon Motorcycles, and as we checked out the latest iteration of Waymo’s autonomous car the question came up – how far away are we from having companies like Waymo do the driving for us? I’ll admit that we found ourselves falling on the side of the skeptics who say we’re still a decade away. But after some thought, I realized that autonomous technology has slowly and incrementally been entering our lives over the past 50 years. Each feature like lane assist, crash preventive braking, and automatic seat adjustment is a step toward autonomy. Even cruise control, which was first patented in 1948, was a step. I’ll be exploring this idea further in a series about the road to autonomy and what it looks like.
As I left TechCrunch, I felt exhilarated by the possibilities ahead of us. It is a truly exciting time to be a part of the fleet industry because we get to play a hands-on role in finding new use cases for cutting-edge mobility technology. Mary Barra, CEO and Chairman of General Motors, recently said “I believe the auto industry will change more in the next five to 10 years than it has in the last 50.” These changes aren’t just about technology and business, either – it is about a changing society.
I look forward to sharing a glimpse of what that changing landscape may look like in our upcoming autonomy series. In the meantime, you can watch the full cut of my TechCrunch presentation here.