Incumbents and the sharing economy: the example of GM

By 30 January 2016 9

© Deloitte, 2015: The sharing economy.

It is safe to say that the automotive industry experiences some turmoil; cars themselves, as well as the way we are using them, are changing profoundly. Traditional, petrol-powered, cars are slowly being replaced by electric cars and potentially fully autonomous vehicles. On the consumer level, a shift in consumption patterns, away from ownership to usage, challenges the traditional car ownership model. As such, over the past years, we have seen the rise of on-demand transportation and car-sharing services. For some, companies such as Uber or Zipcar are convenient ways to outsource driving and make owning a car in itself unnecessary. For others, it makes owning a car worthwhile as it allows them to provide their services to the sharing economy.

Confronted with such disruptive changes, incumbents in the automotive industry are faced with the question of how to respond. To shed some light on the issue, I will have a look at the strategy of General Motors (GM). Why GM? Turns out, January has been a busy month for the Detroit-based carmaker. GM not only acquired Sidecar and teamed up with Lyft, two providers of on-demand transportation services, but also launched Maven, its own car-sharing service.

Partnering with Lyft

© Lyft

On January 4th, GM announced its strategic alliance with Lyft, the San-Francisco based provider of on-demand transportation services. In the United States, Lyft is the second largest and fastest growing provider of on-demand transportation services and provides 7 million rides a month, across more than 190 cities (I discuss Lyft and competition in the ride-sharing/-hailing industry here on IPdigIT).

In practical terms, the alliance implies that GM will invest $500 million in the start-up and Daniel Ammann, GM’s president, will join Lyft’s board of directors. But there is more to it. Key elements of the alliance further include the joint development of a car rental model for drivers as well as a network of on-demand autonomous cars.

  • A car rental model for Lyft drivers. GM and Lyft will set up a series of short-term car rental hubs in various cities across the United States. More specifically, people who want to work for Lyft, but do not own a car, can pick up a vehicle at these hubs and GM will be the preferred provider. For Lyft, the deal increases its supply of drivers (depending on the rental price and Lyft’s ability to ensure that the cars are only used for its own service). For GM, it represents an opportunity to set a foot in the ride-sharing/-hailing economy. Here the threat of a demand cannibalization for GM should be minimal as the focal point of its traditional owner-driver type of business is not in urban centers.

“The biggest part of GM’s business will continue to be the owner-driver model where someone buys a car and owns it, use it when they need to, and park it when it’s not in use,” he [Daniel Ammann] says. That model still works well, especially in the suburbs, where the company still makes most of its money, according to Ammann. Elsewhere, he says, it’s a different story. (Davey Alba, WIRED)

  • A network of on-demand autonomous cars. Setting up a series of car rental hubs is only an intermediate step, the long-run goal of the alliance is a network of on-demand autonomous cars. Over the past decade, companies such as Google, Tesla or Uber – only to name a few – joined the race towards a driverless future. And GM is no exception. Since it started collaborating with Carnegie Mellon University back in 2007, the carmaker devoted enormous resources to developing autonomous vehicle technology. “Why partner at all?” or “Why not team-up with Uber instead?”, some may wonder. Indeed, Uber recently made headlines by poaching 40 researchers and scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and launching its new research center for autonomous cars in Pittsburgh. However, also when it comes to autonomous cars, Uber sticks to its do-it-yourself mentality. Notice also that the race is not necessarily won by putting an autonomous car on the market. It is equally about getting consumers into them.

The Lyft-GM deal differs in one crucial way from any other effort. More than just getting the self-driving car built, the two companies working together offers the clearest picture yet of how those cars might actually be used. (Davey Alba, WIRED)

Exploring new technology: Mobileye and OnStar

© General Motors

Just one day later, on January the 5th, GM announced its plans to explore a new technology from Mobileye to build maps that support fully autonomous driving. GM started collaborating with Mobileye, a technology company that develops advanced collision avoidance systems, about ten years ago and uses its software on its car cameras.

The plan is the following. Mobileye’s technology is able to “detect vehicles, pedestrians, and other obstacles, as well as road markings, signs, and traffic lights“. With the right data, it is thus able to build highly detailed and constantly updated maps that bring autonomous driving one step closer to reality.

This is where GM’s OnStar system comes into play. OnStar is a GM subsidiary that grew out of a collaboration between GM, Electronic Data Systems and Hughes Electronics Corporation in 1995 (joined by Verizon Wireless in 2011). It combines different safety, connectivity and navigation features such as various security and emergency services, Wi-Fi service or remote access. Most important, it enables GM to obtain the precise, real-time data that is crucial for building high-definition maps. To give you an idea of the current state of research, today’s GPS systems have a margin of error of about 10 meters. Mobileye expects to reduce this margin to about 10 centimeters.

Naturally, this plan hinges on collecting a sufficient amount of data, and by this on a widespread use of GM’s OnStar system. It is now clear that there are additional benefits to being the preferred provider for Lyft’s short-term rental hubs (GM announced that “Lyft drivers and customers will have access to GM’s […] OnStar services“).

Acquiring Sidecar assets

© Sidecar

On January 19th, it became public that GM had acquired Sidecar, another player in the on-demand transportation industry. Founded in 2012, Sidecar has been around since the early days of the industry and contributed substantially to its success. Nevertheless, with competition toughening, it was quickly left behind by its rivals. In early 2015, the start-up shifted its focus on the delivery business, however, despite its efforts, decided to shut down its operations in December 2015.

At first glance, the move might seem a little odd, especially given GM’s alliance with Lyft. Surely, the acquisition is rumored to have been a rather attractive deal for GM (with an alleged acquisition price less than the $39 million raised by Sidecar). Also, Sidecar’s Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder Jahan Khanna, as well as twenty other employees will join the carmaker. For GM, the decisive factor, however, is something else. Paul Sunil, Co-founder and CEO of Sidecar (not joining GM), explains that a key component of the agreement is a license to Sidecar patents, notably “the US Patent #6356838 for “System and method for determining an efficient transportation route”“. Maulin Shah, managing attorney at Envision IP, comments on the importance of the deal:

Sidecar’s patent appears to be highly fundamental to this industry, and Sidecar is the only company among the group that owns an issued patent.  The patent has 95 forward citations from later-filed patent applications owned by Microsoft, Research in Motion, Cisco, IBM, Sprint, General Motors, Honda Motor Co., Mitsubishi, Tom Tom, and Navteq.

There are speculations about what GM might do (or be able to do) with the license. Generally, this depends on a couple of factors, among others, whether GM is the exclusive licensee of the patent. Fact is also that in the past Sidecar never went to court. This leaves the strength of the patent untested. In any case, GM most likely prefers knowing the patent in its own IP portfolio, than in the ones of its competitors.

Introducing Maven

© General Motors

The final puzzle piece is the launch of Maven, GM’s own Personal Mobility Brand. Official news of Maven broke on January 21st, however, GM registered the trademark back in November 2015. Maven essentially combines several of GM’s initiatives in the car-sharing market.

  • A car-sharing service in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that, for now, focuses on serving faculty and students at the university of Michigan (there are plans to expand the service to other cities in the United States within the year). Further plans include the launch of a car-sharing service for apartment-building residents in Chicago as well as the expansion of a similar, already existing, program in New York City.
  • Existing global initiatives such as peer-to-peer car-sharing in Germany via CarUnity (according to GM, roughly 10,000 users in Frankfurt and Berlin joined the marketplace since mid-2015).
  • Diverse programs on campuses in the United States, Europe and China to test and refine Maven’s future service offerings.

Julia Steyn, Vice President at GM, emphasizes that a key element of Maven is customization; “We believe it’s important in the car sharing experience for the passenger and customer to feel like it’s your own vehicle“.

Maven customers will experience seamless smartphone and keyless integration with the vehicle. Maven customers use its app to search for and reserve a vehicle by location or car type and unlock the vehicle with their smartphone. The app also enables remote functions such as starting, heating or cooling and more. Customers can bring their digital lives into the vehicle through Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar, SiriusXM radio and 4GLTE wireless. Each vehicle will provide an ownership-like experience with the convenience of car-sharing. (GM, Press release)

Customization and convenience, together with an hourly rate as low as $6 (that is including insurance and gas) and no subscription fee (a clear distinction from competing services such as Zipcar or Car2Go) may convince consumers to give Maven a try.

Note also that GM’s OnStar system is once again part of the offer. This relates to another point. In itself, Maven should yield only little financial incentives for GM (compared to its other areas of business). The move mainly makes sense in light of GM’s efforts for building a network of self-driving cars. With Maven, GM lays the foundation for its own network of autonomous cars, reducing its dependence from Lyft in the long run.

Oh sure, there’s money to be made in car-sharing, as ZipCar and others have shown. But it’s small potatoes for a company like GM. It isn’t until you take the long view that this move makes sense. Maven can be the foundation for the self-driving car network GM wants to build. (Alex Davies, WIRED)

What are your thoughts on GM’s strategy? Can you think of other examples of how incumbents start joining the sharing economy?

, , , , , ,

Tags: , , , , , ,

9 Responses to Incumbents and the sharing economy: the example of GM

  1. Verschoore Quentin 16 March 2016 at 16:15 #

    Here the economic policy of GM is really interesting. Indeed, even if they still focus on their core business, based on the owner-driver model, they diversify their policy and anticipate through investing in projects, start-ups, structures that will most likely constitute the future, which might be not too distant.

    As far as I am concerned, did I think about the aspects of the nimble execution when I read this article. Effectively, it has to do with the ability that some companies have to adapt to their environment through seizing opportunities while still providing high performances inside of their core business. As counterexample could I mention the fact that Nokia, which used to be an important leader on the phone market, neglected the apparition of the smartphones and lost a lot of its market shares.

    We know we are living in a changing world where the sharing economy has already started and will continue to disrupt our economical model. As we saw with the Uber services, the impacts could be drastic and damaging for some sectors such as the “Taxi services”. Therefore, in my opinion it would be a serious negligence if such companies, owing huge financial funds and not only from the automotive industry, didn’t invest in such opportunities.

    Moreover, through increasing the number of start-ups with whom they collaborate, GM can benefit from different types of synergies and opportunities (license to Sidecar’s patents, foot in the hailing economy, use of precise high-definition maps of Mobileye,…) and will be able to put all those assets in their autonomous car project, allowing them to implement a safer, cutting edge car probably generating huge returns on investment.

    Quentin Verschoore, student at the LSM.

  2. Tombal Martin 16 March 2016 at 11:13 #

    It is difficult to deny today the growing strength of the sharing economy. Applications as Uber and Airbnb are used every day by millions of people around the world. Car companies such as GM are realizing that the business model is slowly evolving, and that they have to react if they do not want to be out of the market in the coming years.

    First I think GM is adopting the right strategy to treat this opportunity. They are not rushing into the sharing economy by devoting all their resources to change their business model. GM is aware that even though the business model is evolving in big cities, they still have a large market outside those cities, and they are still focusing on it.

    The consulting firm Mckinsey recently published an article on the key factor for sharing economy’s success. One of this factor is “identify common ground and build alliances’. The idea behind it, is that both incumbents and new sharing companies have a distinctive target on the same market. By making alliances, incumbents can then have access to a part of the market they would not have been able to reach if they would have stick with their old business model. On the other hand, the sharing companies, do not always have the resources to fulfil the needs of all their customers. Teaming up with incumbents is a possibility for those companies to have access to greater resources.

    This was actually what drove Avis, the famous car renter to launch itself in the sharing economy by purchasing Zipcar, a growing car sharing company. Avis spent 500 million dollars to acquire the car sharing company. The main aim of this purchase was to increase fleet utilization during the week-end. Avis was having trouble to rent their whole fleet during the week-end and Zipcar, was on the contrary facing too much demand on those period. By purchasing Zipcar, Avis managed to increase their fleet utilization.

    Another thing that I find interesting on GM’s strategy is that they already have a long term vision of the sharing economy. By that, I mean that they already are investing in the future of the business model, by trying to develop self-driving car that will be use in the future by the on demand transportation industry. Whatever some people may think, self-driving car is not science fiction anymore. Yes, Google still face some issues with his car, but the system is improving. Mercedes for example have developed a car that rides on her own on the highway. The only thing the driver has to do is to use the indicating light if he wants to switch lane. This is to say, that the car of the future, may be more the car of the present than we might think, and investing in it today is for me an interesting strategy from GM.

    References :

  3. Léopold Van Oost 16 March 2016 at 10:36 #

    Thanks to this article, we can easily conclude that General Motors is working on a strategy for the future of the company. With the emergence of all kinds of peer-to-peer services such as Uber and companies with new business model such as Cambio in Belgium, car manufacturers have to rethink their business model to stay on track.

    Indeed, it has become very difficult for people to own a car in big cities. First of all, cars are expensive, you need to pay the fuel, assurances and you need to have place to park your car. In the same time, big cities are having very good networks of public transport, cabs and Uber. So, a lot of people do not own cars anymore in those cities, and if they need one, they rent it (1). That is why big car manufacturers are working on those new strategies.

    An example, still related to car manufacturers, is the BMW Drive Now service of BMW in San Fransisco (2) but also in several European cities. The idea is quite simple, after a registration on the website (with a registration fee of 29€), you can book a car for the amount of time you want. The user can drive the car wherever he wants for a minimum of 24 cents per minute of use. After that drive, the car can be left anywhere in a specific area of the city. The users can drive BMW cars (standard or electric cars) or Mini cars. In the same idea than General Motors, BMW created this service in collaboration with the car renter Sixt (3). As the owning of car is more and more complicated in big cities, there is no doubt that the service will be developed by BMW.

    BMW is not the only company to diversify its activity. For example, U-haul, the American company that rent trucks and storage space, developed a crowdfunding platform: the U-Haul Investors Club. The platform allows people to invest into the company. The objective is to get “funding with lower lending rates while creating “a special kind of loyalty over the long term.””(4).

    To conclude, I think that most of the big brands, as General motors, BMW or U-Haul, are going to work on their business model to adapt it to the current habits of people and to keep a good customer satisfaction.


  4. Sacha Navez 16 March 2016 at 09:23 #

    “We think our business and personal mobility will change more in the next five years than the last 50, GM President Dan Ammann said in an interview with Reuters.”

    We can also read that Toyota and Ford, invited competitor car companies to join them to counter the push by Apple, Alphabet, Tesla Motors Inc and others into self-driving cars, or what the industry also calls autonomous vehicles.

    Global automakers are trying to prevent Silicon Valley from dominating the future of self-driving cars and ride-sharing (Matthew Stover, automotive analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group) and see them as a real threat to their business.

    “The only way to understand the implications and viability of this business model (Lyft and Uber) is to become an investor, said Stover.”
    “For incumbent players in mature industries, the immediate challenge is to avoid being disrupted. “
    As we have seen before, the automotive industry had recognized the sharing economy as an early threat and adopted the model where it was possible. Today, many of them now run their own car-sharing businesses and others have made strategic investments in new entrants—such as Avis in Zipcar and BMW in JustPark.
    Thus, these are two other examples of automakers trying to not suffer from the uberization of their businesses. The question of cannibalization of their own business is not really relevant. If they don’t do it, someone else will invent it.
    PWC in his report recommends developing a mitigation strategy. “Whether acquiring a new entrant, partnering or investing in them, companies can mitigate the risk of a sharing economy insurgency and even capitalize on sharing economy revenue to bolster their business.”

    Personally, I think that GM of BMW adopt really good strategies. GM has succeeded to question its business and to recognize threats. GM has acquired sharing economy company and integrates it in development. That’s a good example of “innovate or perish” philosophy. And I think that it not only about sharing economy. It’s about innovation in a more broadly way. A good example of such trend is the Goldman Sachs move. They want to disrupt their own sector and to not maybe be a bank anymore. “As proof, the bank announced in summer 2015 that some of its platforms – such as market data analysis and risk management, according to the Wall Street Journal – will now be available in open source.”
    “With the secret messaging system Symphony, which it broadly supports the development, the bank is testing a solution that would allow it to disrupt its own sector. With, in the crosshairs, Bloomberg. And a convincing argument: price. “The cost to a user Symphony, represents 1% of that of Bloomberg terminals,” said, convinced Martin Chavez”

    In a fast moving environment, companies have to be aware of what could happen in their market and be the drivers of these changes to stay competitive.

  5. Loick Marien 15 March 2016 at 19:07 #

    In my opinion, GM’s strategy is quite interesting for many reasons.

    First of all, the deal with Lyft allows them to enter the ride-sharing/-hailing economy. In that way, they can understand the sharing economy, learn from Lyft, replicate or refine what they have learned with Maven. The risk of losing their own clients to Lyft is not worrisome because most of them live in the suburbs and this economy is mainly dedicated to those who live in the cities. Undeniably, GM is not really successful in big towns. Thus this partnership is a great way to conquer the big agglomerations.

    Secondly, GM also knows that the future of the automotive industry will be autonomous cars without drivers. That is what their OnStar system is aimed to. This system is important because it allows GM to get real-time data they need to build their high-definition maps that are crucial for the autonomous cars. Obviously, they need the more data as possible and the partnership with Lyft is a great way to collecting those data. Besides that, all the customers that they reach through this partnership could be potential customers for Maven.

    Then, their last move was to launch Maven, their own car-sharing company. Their strategy is to mix customization and convenience. Everything is made in a way that we feel in the car that we rent like if it was ours. In that way we don’t have to spend a big amount to have our own personalized car. The goal of Maven is to lessen the dependence from Lyft. We can imagine that GM will in the future end his partnership with Lyft and that Maven will become their main activity in the car-sharing business.

    GM is not the only carmaker who starts joining the sharing economy. Indeed, Ford, Toyota, VW, Daimler and BMW have all launched car-sharing services. Patagonia and eBay have partnered up to create an online marketplace where consumers can buy and sell used Patagonia clothing. Patagonia does not earn money from the sales but this system allows them to enlarge their customer base. Ikea did quite the same thing because they also implemented an online market that helps their customers to sell their second-hand IKEA furniture.

    source :

  6. Gregory Merguerian 14 March 2016 at 17:33 #

    In my opinion GM has well and accurately evaluated the sector in which it is established. With the non-stop and fast pace world we are living in, decisions must be made. Since GM has been going up and down for many years, it is a nice and safe bet to turn around part of its business and generate profits from a potentially great opportunity. They will acquire a whole new category of users that wouldn’t go at first for buying a brand new car and who are also maybe “eco-minded”. Since there are more and more selfless driving cars emerging on the market, by acquiring start-ups that help enhancing the selfless driving experience, GM can become one of the major actors in the business and be a step ahead of the other major incumbents. Of course this is not a short-term strategy since I think people are still not ready to use these cars mainly because of safety risks. We have recently seen a video where hackers manage to take the control of a Jeep from a long range, this is typically an issue that the industry must improve and make sure that every car is 100% safe.

    Another example of an incumbent investing in the sharing economy is Citigroup which is the leading global bank, they have been investing heavily in the P2P sharing model. Actors such as Lending Club and Prosper market place are platforms that have generated yields from 5 to 9%, they have taken advantage of the low interest rate and the passion for new P2P models to thrive on the market. What Citigroup has done is close a deal of 150 million $ with the Lending club mainly to finance loans, they have done the same with SoFi which is a student loan platform. This will allow the P2P lending model to expand even more, the projected amount of loaned money in 2025 is 150 billion $ coming from a low 5 billion in 2014.

    On one hand people think that banks do that in the only goal of making money but on the other hand people believe banks want to be a bit more entrepreneurial. It also allows them to do things that they wouldn’t be able to do in their main bank. I believe that doing that may increase the relationship the banks have with people, they are often seen as money makers and institutions that do not care about people. By getting active on the sharing economy market, consumers will maybe have a better image of the banks.


  7. Jordana Viotto 21 February 2016 at 15:39 #

    Very interesting article! The same kind of movement has been happening on crowdfunding. GE Venture Capital announced some years ago that it would dedicate a part of its portfolio to startups coming from crowdfunding platforms. The bank BBVA released a crowdfunding-like service in Spain in order to facilitate money exchanges (particularly loans) among friends and family. Apparently some time after they terminated the service (no demand?).

    I have just seen this Nesta survey on the Alternative Finance which adds to this discussion on the incumbents strategy to compete with new business models that potentially threaten their position in the market. Nesta reports that 25% of all loans (£2.2 billion) on lending crowdfunding platforms wer allocated by institutions in 2015.

    They say “we are likely to see incumbents playing an increasing role: both mainstream financial institutions, who are seeking to learn from their new competitors, and institutional funders, who will continue to provide significant amounts of the funds available on a growing number of platforms”.

    • Eva-Maria Scholz 22 February 2016 at 07:32 #

      Thanks a lot for making me aware of the study by Nesta. It will definitively be interesting to watch to the future developments in this sector.

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>