Select excerpts from Subscribed Podcast with Will Widera
Will Widera has been working on strategy and go-to-market planning for self-driving cars since 2013. He is an independent consultant to a range of companies from startups to Fortune 100 companies, helping them develop strategies to tackle the changing mobility industry formerly known as the auto industry. Most recently, he was heading Product and GTM strategy at Uber and prior to that he led strategic special projects and helped define the strategy and business plan for Waymo (formerly the Google Self-Driving Car Project).
We talk to Will about the future of the mobility industry including self-driving cars, scooters, and more!
How do you define mobility as a market or as a category?
I think of it in a pretty broad sense. In many ways, I tend to bound it mostly at the hour to two-hour long trip distance, where it’s the trips you take on a regular basis, maybe daily or weekly. Travel is the type of trip you take on a monthly or a semi-annual basis.
You’ve spoken about how car ownership isn’t even really feasible in the age of ride sharing. Can you tell us a little bit about your thinking around that?
If we think about what does it really mean to own a car, it comes with these benefits: You get a car that you can leave your things in, you essentially have a zero wait time if you live with a garage or a parking spot outside, and you get to pick the car you want.
Today, they’re generally better than what the alternatives would be. If you want to use Uber all the time, you have to pay a lot, you have to wait five minutes, you just can’t leave your stuff in the car.
With self-driving cars, what’s really going to change is all those benefits of ownership can be cloned in a service model once you have labor not being a driving cost of the service, once costs come down enough. If you think about the future, you can get all the benefits of ownership around very low wait time to no wait time, potentially even be able to leave your things in a car.
You also get the upside of never having to worry about maintenance, or fueling, or insurance, and being able to switch out the car anytime you want for something that actually benefits your needs. Those are downside trade-offs we live with today. You can imagine these models where you can get those benefits of having a car wait for you, having a much shorter wait time that you can’t really see in the world today where with labor costs, which are time-dependent, are really the key driver of your consumer cost. Autonomy unlocks the shift from time to a usage-based cost structure.
I think in general as services become cheaper and more available, it just becomes so much more pleasant as a consumer to have a service-oriented model than to have this single asset that you’re tied to for many years.
How do you see pricing models evolving? Is the whole mobility industry going to move to usage or consumption-based models?
I think that in general, this movement towards consumption is going to be a trend as we move more toward a service model for mobility. It makes you think about people’s inherent biases, they don’t necessarily love paying and being reminded each time they use something that they’re paying a certain fee for it. It will be a challenge to bring the consumer demand for more of this kind of single payment per month, “all you can eat” type structure into line with the actual underlying cost structure. For transportation, it’s going to be a very interesting path to figure out the right balance there between pure consumption pricing, and this “all you can eat” single charge model.
What would you say are the top three challenges facing the mobility industry today?
For the car companies, it’s really a question of what do you do really, really well. There’s a lot of change coming to the industry, some driven by autonomy, a lot driven by electrification. Electrification really fundamentally changes what it really means to build a car. In many ways, it’s actually a very different process for making an internal combustion vehicle.
If I’m the head of one of these businesses, I’m thinking very seriously about: Do I have what it really takes to compete in mobility? What does it really even mean to compete in mobility? Do we need to start thinking about the electric vehicle supply chain differently? Are these scooters and bikes things that I should be making? What is the future of the simpler electric vehicle?
I would also think pretty seriously about how do I partner with some of the software companies that seem to have more of an inside track on having a great relationship with the user, being able to provide them with a really holistic experience.
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