Why automotive apps are the future of car rentals
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Why automotive apps are the future of car rentals

Why automotive apps are the future of car rentals

In an exclusive interview, Soham Shah, CEO at Selfdrive shares how apps are dominating the automotive space, allowing customers mobility at fingertips

Gulf Business

Tell us about Selfdrive.
We are an all technology-driven e-commerce portal established in 2016 and the only company to be licenced by RTA (in the UAE), allowing the customers to rent cars on demand for short and long-term leases. We have partnered with car manufacturers, dealers, and the top leasing companies making it the fastest-growing asset lite company managing assets worth $350m and aim to reach $500m by Q2 2022.

We have launched our service in Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain with an accessible fleet of over 500 units offering daily, weekly and monthly rentals and leasing solutions.

Our USP is the association with dealers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to offer brand-new and almost brand-new cars to customers from 1 day to 36 months. The artificial intelligence (AI) driven system makes the reservation journey and documentation seamless for the customers to reserve the cars of their choice, ranging from over 65 models of 16 different brands across UAE, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain. In addition, we aim to serve residents, the expat population and the international travellers who need a car, creating an alternative to car ownership by offering micro leasing and leasing solutions.

Tell us about the AI integration in your app.
AI integration takes place in three different verticals. For example, if you are a registered customer on our platform and have been driving a certain segment of a vehicle, say BMW – every time you return to the application, the look and feel of the application would typically change depending on what kind of vehicle clientele base you have been. This would provide more convenience for the customers to have desired results rather than looking through all the available options on the app. Secondly, AI has been implemented for smart recommendation of services for the consumers. And finally, it is incorporated to understand the user behaviour and to have comprehensive knowledge on the kinds and types of services they require; right from the locations they’d prefer us to offer our services to any more vehicle brands or models they’d be interested to drive. The goal in implementing AI is to serve them better and we are confident that this use of technology will help us accelerate our services.

How has the pandemic changed your business model?
We as a company, have been fortunate to stay stable during the pandemic, considering the amount of uncertainty that the market experienced. We have been able to serve more people with basic level of mobility. Although the pandemic hit, we realised that people were still looking for options to meet their mobility needs – through their own car or leased or rented vehicles. So, we developed and built solutions during the pandemic that has helped the company grow exponentially. Post pandemic, the company has grown by 380 per cent, and we have been able to do this just because we launched the right products at the right time. Our subscription product has been one of the most successful ones where customers were offered car ownership experience monthly starting from one month to 12 months. This was accompanied with flexible options and has been one of the key factors that led us to meet the demands and the expectations of the consumers. When the pandemic hit, uncertainties were at peak, we realised that people would require basic plans to meet their mobility needs, rather than invest in new cars and new assets. The market situation, when the pandemic hit was to secure the belongings and lifetime savings to be able to put it to good use, rather than invest in a depreciating asset. People have become wiser and smarter in taking, and that’s where the company benefited and witnessed an upward growth trajectory during difficult times.

What are your views on shared mobility or on-demand vehicles?
Shared mobility brings a different scale of growth in the economy, whether it’s peer-to-peer vehicles or peer-to-peer shared mobility. It is impressive in terms of the value it brings to the individuals as they can share their vehicles on the platforms, people can rent those vehicles and make a secondary income out of it. Shared mobility also increases vehicle sales; it accelerates the banking and the insurance sector and systematically aligns the rate structure making it more affordable than traditional rent cars guys do. So shared mobility is undoubtedly disrupting the industry. On-demand vehicles are what exactly we offer, which is a key disruptor for the industry. Our application provides cars and vehicles on demand for customers to just have it for a day or two or a month, return it, upgrade it or exchange their vehicles with any other model. So that amount of flexibility has already been launched, and it’s already been successful in the market. Shared mobility will be more of the compliance being accepted, and we will have to see how that works in the market. But yes, it has a brighter future, but the implications will only be judged based on the execution, which will vary from country to country. It is something very new for GCC, but then we’ll see if it gets approved by the authorities out here to take it forward.

Are automotive apps the future of car rentals? If yes, how?
Yes, apps are the future of car rentals because they open a different vertical for customers. From premium to mid-range and cost-effective versions, various brands are showcased with the latest car model options, helping them access these vehicles at their fingertips. As cars have also moved online, renting also offers a different solution to car ownership. It allows customers the flexibility to rent cars from any location, be it the airport, residence, hotel or any part of the country. Apps are dominating the automotive space with its super-powerful technologies, allowing customers mobility at their fingertips.

What new introductions are you planning for your app this year?
One instrumental feature that will be a part of the app this year is the customer who makes a reservation will now be able to track their progress about their reservation. In simple words, customers will have real-time access to the key stages of delivery. As such, once the car has been reserved, customers will be able to view updates on reservations, incorporation of compliance documents in the system, car details sent to the dealership, the car is prepped and ready at the dealership, notification on where and when can the vehicle be picked up form or an indication on the current status of the delivery time. All in all, customers will be able to view the car right from stage one to the finale on the car coming to you in a live Google map environment. As the app will offer real-time updates on car delivery, customer confidence in our services will also increase. In addition, customers can also view a status bar or the progress tab post the reservation, which is a new feature unique to the industry, which will make us be another first in the automotive space. The final testing stages are complete, and this should go live soon.

What are your goals for the year ahead?
This year, we are looking at a hyper level growth considering our expansion across the GCC. We aim to be a part of every country in the GCC in Q1, 2022. Following that, we would be looking at launching in the UK and Europe in Q3,2022. We are also aiming to have around 5000 cars by the end of this year. So, practically, this will enhance and double our fleet from what we are right now. In addition, we are strategically also expanding our services to corporates.

Read: UAE-based Selfdrive launches mobility app to redefine on-demand car rentals

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