Prague goes digital 

Luboš Vlček, Managing Director of ŠKODA AUTO Czech Republic, sits down with Alex Kreetzer to talk about the company’s car-sharing platform Uniqway.

ŠKODA Uniqway is a special car-sharing platform, operated by students of three Czech universities. ŠKODA AUTO Czech Republic, in cooperation with its innovation centre called ŠKODA DigiLab, initiated the idea and assisted an executive team of students who developed the service and steered the project. ŠKODA Uniqway is the only car-sharing service that is run by students for students. Vlček says that this provides a new opportunity for students to get involved with future mobility solutions: “I find it interesting when talking with them to see how these young people are perceiving mobility services and how they think about individual transportation in the future.” ŠKODA also supports a number of universities through several projects aimed at additional future transportation solutions.

Luboš Vlček

Car-sharing has significantly affected the traditional processes of the automotive industry and has forced automakers like ŠKODA to adapt their business structures to capitalise on this change. Vlček believes that the biggest changes for the company are still ahead. “We assume that the automotive industry will transform itself in the same way as telecommunication services did in the last decade,” he says. “We can see a fast-growing community of people who want to be fully mobile but don´t want to have their own car. We need to have a sufficient platform matching their needs and this kind of mobility services could be an option. Mobility as a service is part of our Strategy 2025, which we follow.” In addition to this, car-sharing is changing the way automakers sell vehicles, removing the linear buy-to-sell model. For ŠKODA, which has built its identity off the back of its vehicle line up, this means that it will be manufacturing a lot more vehicles solely for its services in the future. “ŠKODA has satisfied many customers, who buy the car just for themselves,” continues Vlček. “This will not change overnight, as it is a long process that we must respect.” However, the leading car-sharing service in Prague, named Car4Way, has a fleet of 650 ŠKODA cars in the city and 50 additional cars in Brno. This shows the development of mobility services in European cities and a new specific demand for shared vehicles, which Vlček believes suits ŠKODA’s models perfectly. “The Czech people are getting digital - especially the young generation. They are used to ordering stuff online like food, insurance and other products. Due to this, we need to have an offer for customers who are used to buying things online,” he says. “Therefore, this is the reason why we came up with the possibility to order the car solely online and why we are active in the field of sharing the economy with projects like Uniqway or Hoppy go.”

22-23 January 2019

Coventry University Technology Park

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Mobility from the campus to the city

For now, car-sharing is the most direct method of reducing emissions and congestion in cities, being a driving factor in taking privately-owned vehicles off of our roads. Vlček believes that the car-sharing service in Prague could help to solve more immediate problems, such as the lack of parking spaces in the area. “If cars are in motion, they don´t need so many parking places. Parking restrictions are getting more and more controversial in our capital city and people will recognise that it makes no sense to let the car stand still without any use. Considering the purely EV car-sharing platform, it might help reduce emissions in urban areas as well,” he says. Although we are seeing a lot more of these mobility services in cities, there is still a need to convince the wider public to make the switch over to sustainable transportation, whether that is through mobility services for alternative fuels. There is still a lot more to be done says Vlček, but we are going in the right direction. “Our colleagues from the peer-to-peer car-sharing HoppyGo, powered by ŠKODA DigiLab, figured out that the number of people motivated to lend or borrow a car throughout a car-sharing platform has doubled each year. Still, we are talking about several thousand individuals who are interested in this kind of service. Therefore, there is a lot of work ahead; it means that we have to educate the market and to make this service achievable, secure and user-friendly.”

The Uniqway project is a student-driven project, which is a fresh approach to mobility services. Students are a great way to figure out how a service will operate, but it is also a great way of designing something from more innovative and open minds. Statistically, the younger generation is more open to new technologies and processes that break the conventional way of living. Another facet to this decision is that students do not have enough money to afford their own car, which again helps drive new ideas in the world of transportation. “The idea is simple. The Students want to be fully mobile, but do not want or cannot afford their own car,” adds Vlček. “That is why ŠKODA and ŠKODA DigiLab came up with the idea to develop a special mobility service platform for them. The lending zones, application functionalities and car models were developed and designed with a special focus on young people. We are pleased to have a chance to run the project with young people, full of energy and bright ideas.”

Innovative power and digital development

By utilising its Auto DigiLab, ŠKODA has created a new division that allows it to make quicker decisions due to being more agile and exclusive from the main brand. As part of Strategy 2025, the company has defined digitisation and digital mobility services as the cornerstone of its future corporate development. “The ŠKODA DigiLab in Prague plays a crucial role in strengthening the Czech carmaker’s innovative power and digital development expertise. It aligns the entire company with the possibilities and requirements of digitisation,” says Vlček. Established as a responsive IT start-up, this ideas workshop explores and develops new business models, solutions and products. This innovation centre continually looks for new digital approaches to create modern mobility services for its customers. The team includes more than 20 specialists who are currently working on around 40 projects. The tasks of the DigiLab involve cooperating with external innovators, start-ups and partners. DigiLab is also starting to work in the Tel Aviv, Israel – a city that is considered as one of the most dynamic IT start-up locations in the world.

When it comes to mobility, there is an unparalleled need for global collaboration and expansion. By working alongside other mobility providers, authorities and cities, ŠKODA can develop its brands and services to accommodate the fast-paced environment of the mobility sector. “We have signed a special declaration with the city of Prague and Czech Technical University just a few weeks ago and we are cooperating on several smart city projects, in addition to our mobility services projects,” Vlček elaborates. However, in terms of expansion, ŠKODA is focused on testing the water before a mass rollout, to avoid any issues with the service. As the process is so complex, it would be unwise to have an aggressive rollout and deal with the issues further down the line. “We would like to evaluate the first phase and perception of our customers; how it works and fixing any bugs found during the early stages,” says Vlček. “Expansion to other markets is certainly an option, but the decision has not been made yet.” The future for Uniqway over the next few years is still unclear but, make no doubt about it, Vlček and his team are constantly looking towards the future, keeping the progression under wraps from the public. “We have some plans with the whole project, but I would rather keep it to myself for now!”  

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