Nick Kokas , vice president of  Brentwood’s DET  in Macomb, Mich. spoke to the audience about what the future holds for the luxury ground transportation industry.

Nick Kokas, vice president of Brentwood’s DET in Macomb, Mich. spoke to the audience about what the future holds for the luxury ground transportation industry.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — As complex and constant as technology can be, operators need to keep up with the changes to ensure their services remain competitive.

That was the overriding message from a 2019 LCT East show presentation, titled "Mobility Technology: Past, Present, and Future,” hosted by Nick Kokas, vice president of Brentwood’s DET in Macomb, Mich.

Keeping An Open Mind

Whether you're in the bus, chauffeured car, limousine, van, shuttle, or even ride hail industry, you’re a part of a group that provides mobility-based solutions. “With the advent of the Global Ground Transportation Institute, we're now aiming to make a multifaceted and multi-vertical approach by looking at our industry as a slice within this greater mobility pie,” Kokas said.

“By including all these different verticals, we increased the potential of creating synergies and efficiencies. Today, all these different verticals have become more integrated because of evolving human behavior due to one thing: The cell phone,” he explained.

Kokas’ presentation focused on new market disruptors the industry didn't necessarily agree with in the past. He believes it’s better to have them at the table and talk about them so providers can create new synergies and partnerships that eventually benefit bottom lines.

Staying Competitive

The passenger transportation industry has been around for several hundreds of years, starting with the horse and buggy. The basic concept of moving a person from point A to point B has not changed. “What has changed are the tools we use to move people as well as the tools they use to actually acquire our services,” he said.

We’ve gone from having to literally go outside on the street to look for a ride, to calling and making reservations in advance to emailing details of a trip.

“Today, a customer can research a company, price it out, and even make a point-of-sale in real-time via online booking. With many of these sophisticated reservation systems, a customer can book travel anywhere in the world from the convenience of their desk or mobile web-friendly phone. Not only is this great for the consumer, but it has the potential for being great for each one of you in this room.”

Different reservation systems are increasing their bilateral transfer of reservation data more frequently. This saves time by not requiring one to manually enter information to create or farm-out a reservation to one of their affiliates. Operators can now provide real-time trip status updates of active rides. Most importantly, they can provide an instant receipt with final total charges sent electronically moments after a trip has been completed to the client.

The need for bilateral back-office systems has to be pushed to industry software providers if the luxury transportation industry hopes to keep up with TNCs. Kokas said he thinks within the last year and a half to two years, industry software companies have been more flexible and willing to work with each other.

“I think they believe they can get a bigger piece of the pie by opening their API and playing nice with each other rather than trying to be exclusive and closing the door on one another. I think it’s up to us in this room to push our vendors to create those partnerships amongst the different technology platforms.”

Ease Of Use

Having a mobile-friendly version of your website is vital to your company’s success going forward. As of 2018, 58% of all website visits were done on a mobile device, Kokas said. Mobile devices also account for about 42% of all time spent on the internet on websites. To dissect this even further for travel, 53% of all site visits related to travel were done on a mobile device. For travel, people spent about 4.18 minutes on a mobile travel site compared to 8.51 minutes on a desktop related specifically to travel-related sites. Because of these trends and statistics, companies are designing their mobile sites before they design their desktop sites.

Desktop isn’t dead, but you must build a site in such a way that it’s easy to use for anyone no matter how they choose to access it. “Users may not want to deal with complicated forms on a mobile device and/or want to enter their credit card information there.”

“While we may not agree with the TNC business model and how they treat their drivers, their pricing formulas, or the unlevel playing fields in which they play, none of us in this room can argue they have not built a better-streamlined mouse trap,” Kokas said.

Think about it: Once your profile has been set up, including your payment method, you can order a car with two to three touches on a piece of glass on a mobile phone. Not only did you just reserve a car, but you receive detailed information about the type of car, who's driving, the driver's contact number, the license plate of the car, where they are located in real-time, and how long they will take to get to you. When the trip is done, you will automatically be sent a receipt to your provided email address. This is the convenience customers in today's "I want it now" world are looking for.

AI Service Enhancement

Automotive manufacturers are making massive investments in mobility solutions. Kokas said Ford Motor Company recently invested $760 million in a new headquarters strictly for this purpose. Many manufacturers are providing pre-reserved transportation options under different brands, as well as AI-enabled vehicles.

Regarding AI, the sky is the limit. Kokas mentioned anyone who books airfare and hotel online may notice if they open their phone's calendar, it will show the date and time of the flight as well as the dates in which they are checking in and checking out the hotel, all without having to input any data manually. Often, your phone will learn where you live or work based on locations you frequent. By using Bluetooth technology, it knows when you're getting into your car, and it takes your common routes and uses algorithms to figure out that you are going to certain locations, Monday through Friday, at various times.

Kokas says some studies say you’ll eventually be able to automatically reserve ground transportation without even lifting a finger. “This has the potential to be even more efficient and streamlined than the case of Uber and Lyft, where you only have to touch two or three touches on your phone to reserve service. This is zero touches. It knows, based on your location, how long, on average, using GPS and navigation technologies, it will take you to get to and from the airport or a hotel. All you need to do is confirm in a pop-up notification on your phone.”

New Revenue Avenue, Or More Competition?

Kokas says there are already talks with major chauffeur car brands to be acquired by auto manufacturers as an effort to enter the passenger transportation space quicker. “According to one of the analysts from the auto manufacture companies, one of the things they're trying to decide is if it’s more cost-effective for them to reinvent the wheel and try and do this from scratch, or for them to find five or six good brands in the marketplace and potentially acquire them,” he said.

Kokas says his company has already been approached by an outside marketplace. “I can't say which industry has approached us, but they have approached us in combination with a portfolio of roughly 11 other companies in specific targeted markets to create this portfolio and potentially sell to this entity.”

Many people think autonomous technology has many years to go before it starts becoming a competitor, but that day may be closer than you think.

Kokas’ business had an Asian company that used their services annually for eight years for the North American International Auto Show. A month and a half prior to the Show in 2017, Kokas didn't notice any communication with this company. He picked up the phone and asked them, "What's going on? You guys love us. We've been providing amazing service for you guys. You write us letters and have even given us a little certificate saying how great we do."

The response was, "Nick, I don't know how to break this to you, but we actually are showing off our autonomous vehicles to all of our guests that are flying into the North American International Auto Show. We're providing all of these services free of charge so we can show off our autonomous technology."

Learn The New Ways

While some of this information may be frightening, Kokas said he wanted to share these facts with the audience because many of the organizations trying to break into autonomous vehicles don't know how will implement this technology and bring it to the masses.

"‘Are they going to partner with car rental companies, dealerships, or global chauffeur car brands in order to help facilitate these services and vehicles in terms of a logistical management process team?’ That’s the question no one has the answer to, but we need to take a different approach. You can’t just say, ‘no, you're my enemy.’ We need to stop drawing this line in the sand and saying, ‘they're the enemy. We're going to fight them. We're going to spend millions of dollars in lobbying fees and commercials to say these guys are horrible.’ Because here's the problem: The public doesn't agree with us. The public is voting with their wallets.”

Operators will need to be more open-minded if they hope to survive. “We need to look at ourselves as a mobility logistics company instead. Again, I'm not here to create division. That's one of the reasons why I've decided to become one of the first and founding board members of the Global Ground Transportation Institute. There's a different approach there. It's a fresh way of thinking. In fact, the intent is there's going to be zero lobbying or legislative efforts. We don't need huge cash hoards or a war chest in order to fight. Instead, we want to be a collaboration of all of these different verticals.”

Originally posted on LCT Magazine