With so much change happening so quickly in how people get from A to B, we asked a leading expert and opinion-former in the mobility sector to describe what’s happening and what it means for customer experience: Christophe Carrère, Group Customer Engagement Director of Europcar Mobility Group, which delivers mobility solutions worldwide, with a network covering around 140 countries and over 5 million customers.
In the first part of our interview with Christophe, he tells us about the New and Next Normal in mobility. In the second part, coming soon, you can read his insights on how to provide a great customer experience for these new norms.
As one of the world’s leading car rental companies, what does the concept of mobility mean for you in 2021?
Mobility covers a lot of different realities and change is happening fast.
Car rental is an increasingly commoditized market, and at Europcar we are moving from a product orientation to a customer orientation, focused on offering our customers the mobility solutions they need. Our customer profiles are very diverse: they may need a vehicle for a few hours, a day, a week, a few months, for a trip to a store, for a weekend in Mallorca, or for their employees on a monthly or yearly basis. We offer them a solution for every situation, and an alternative to owning their own vehicles.
That shift means we have extended beyond our historical focus on car rental. However, our foundations lie in our expertise in vehicle fleet management and our relationships with car manufacturers. Therefore, at this stage, we do not intend to involve ourselves in schemes such as e-scooters or city bikes or in the taxi cab business.
Does this new concept of mobility apply to both B2C and B2B customers?
Broadly, yes, though B2C and B2B customers do not have the same profiles or needs. Business and leisure objectives are very different.
Moreover, in the current, specific situation with Covid-19, the two markets are likely to recover at different speeds. For example, in 2020, international travel virtually stopped in Europe, which impacted cross-border vehicle rental. Though it’s not yet fully clear what will happen with this in 2021, it is likely there will be a progressive, partial recovery in the leisure market. But I would expect the B2B side of cross-border car rental to be slower to recover – companies will hesitate to send their employees on flights, and this will affect car usage. But that’s just a specific and temporary example from the pandemic.
What other patterns in mobility have you seen as a result of the pandemic?
The pandemic did not really create new long-term trends, but it reinforced and accelerated some existing ones. And some of the new normal we have seen during the pandemic will not be permanent. For example, during this period, we have seen a small trend for people to use domestic car rental as a substitute for public transportation, which they are reluctant to use. But we expect this to be temporary and don’t position it as a new customer behavior.
Another pandemic trend has been significantly greater demand for vans and trucks, following the online shopping and home deliveries boom. Let’s see what emerges on that.
Of course, we always have to be cautious when talking about markets and trends because they may not be the same in different geographies. For example, our US business saw very different patterns on vehicle rental during the pandemic in 2020 to those we experienced in Europe.
But for sure, the uncertainty related to this crisis is pushing our customers to look for more flexibility: in their cancellation rights, in their engagement duration…
You said you expect the pandemic to reinforce and accelerate some existing trends; are you seeing accelerated demand for low-emissions travel, for example?
Low-emissions and ‘clean’ travel is interesting because we see a gap between what the media and people talk about and the reality we experience, and the need to differentiate B2B and B2C segments.
Whereas B2C evolution looks very slow, B2B customers are the ones pushing the change. I don’t think there is a single RFP where we are not questioned on carbon footprint and our ability to propose “green” vehicles. This preexisting statement has been reinforced since the pandemic.
But before explaining this further, I should point out two elements when discussing vehicles in general.
The first is that the Europcar Mobility Group fleet is composed of brand new vehicles as our Group fleet mostly relies on the “Buyback” model. We buy brand new vehicles from the manufacturers, and provide them for six to 12 months to our customers before selling them back at a predefined price. It means the vehicles we offer customers are very recent and new – they’re already more fuel-efficient and lower-emissions than the average fleet or the cars in the street.
Next, you should understand that Europcar Mobility Group has different brands. For example, our Ubeeqo brand is a roundtrip car sharing business where people rent a car for a few hours and return it to where they picked it up – which could be an electric vehicle charging point. Some local authorities such as Paris even specifically require us to propose a certain share of EVs to our customers. In the end, our ambition is to propose alternatives to car ownership.
Ultimately, we strongly believe that Europcar Mobility Group has a key role to play in ecological and energetic transition in the upcoming years. Car rental is a very convenient way to propose a “clean” vehicles experience. In the frame of our “One Sustainable Fleet” program, we aim to propose ⅓ of our fleet with clean vehicles (electric or hybrids) by the end of 2023 and we are already proposing offers promoting this use. For instance, our B2B flat rate offer DuoFlex, where the company can provide its employees, on top of their regular vehicle, access to another type of technology. You can drive an electric vehicle during the week and choose a different type of vehicle for longer journeys, or the contrary to test electric vehicles during the weekend.
If change is not being driven by customer demand, do you see other factors driving it?
There are major regulatory drivers on the supply side. I don’t want to go too much into the technical detail of the regulation here, but manufacturers are requested to increase their production of lower-emissions vehicles and put more “clean” vehicles into the market.
As car rental businesses are their primary customers, that will drive change in our market. It means that, rather than customer behaviour driving change, it will be the other way round – market changes will influence the consumer.
What other trends can we expect in the Next Normal?
Car ownership is an important change – or rather replacing car ownership. In the younger generation, in the bigger cities, there’s a structural shift. They are getting more and more used to e-scooter schemes and city bike schemes – and car rental can also be used this way.
At the moment, we’re just at the start of the journey on this: for my generation, for instance, it might feel a bit strange to share a car. But at Europcar, we strongly believe it’s our mission to propose an alternative to vehicle ownership. We have to convince our customers that not owning a car is not such a big deal.
But we should all be aware that this is an urban trend – you’re not going to see it in the countryside. When talking about mobility trends in any market, you have to be very careful. It’s easy to think of the customer as being one and equal, but we have to differentiate between what happens in, say, Milan or Rome, Paris, Berlin, London or wherever and what happens in the countryside of southern France or elsewhere. The trends and the expectations of the customer, and the pace of change, may not be the same at all.