AI has growing potential in most industries, but the transformative power it wields in the automotive sector is hard to beat. Speaking at the AI Summit as part of London Tech Week last Thursday, Addison Lee group director and head of mVentures, Paul McCabe, spoke about how the company is gearing up for an AI-led future.
"Over the last five years, I've been on a transformation journey with the Addison Lee Group in an industry that has been massively disrupted - the industry of taxi and private hire vehicles," he began.
Addison Lee has evolved from a London taxi company to a premium car service platform on a global scale. "For our industry, we are unfashionably profitable - we do actually make money," said McCabe, pointing to the company's more than £400 million in annual revenue and double-digit growth.
"Right now we're in the middle of seismic change to transport," he continued. "It is thrive or survive for transport operators like us in the automotive industry."
He highlights growing trends such as young people driving less, and car sales falling 45 percent year on year. He also points to phenomena such as roughly 37 percent of people using car share services saying they don't need to buy a car, and the predicted surge in the growth of the mobility sector from 12 to 21 percent by 2030.
"The key indicator was investments," he says of the evolving industry. "Over $74 billion have been invested into the top ride hailing companies, although most of the business model is yet to be proven."
And with this shift, has come a shift in values too. McCabe says the key measure of success in this era is customer satisfaction: "Customers have expectations of great experiences, quality services, safety, reliability. And all of these are opportunities to differentiate."
He detailed how Addison Lee has followed this imperative in the evolution of its business model. In 2013, Addison Lee made choices to help the business grow despite increasing competition in the taxi market. These included developing a premium product range and focusing on developments passenger relationships. The company achieved this through digital engagement through CRN and through loyalty, as well as by building out its commercial services engagement for corporate customers.
Digitisation of the service also played a pivotal role. It is now available through an app. "Across all of this, we invested massively in technology and technology gave us scale, it gave us choices," said McCabe.
As a result, the company now serves 600 locations, and has provided 10 million trips in a single year, through thousands of both its own vehicles and those available through an affiliate network.
But how is the company prepping the business for a pivot into AI-driven future? "The dream for autonomous transport is that it's safer, it's going to help fix congestion, be more accessible, it can reduce private car usage and help clean up the air pollution," said McCabe.
"The important point, important point for operations like us, is to be able to adapt to whichever direction it goes."
For Addison Lee, he foresees the coexistence of a premium driven service for more complex or longer journeys alongside autonomous cars as one viable option in the near future.
"The core of our customer experience is that it's personalised, that it's tailored, that it's connected, data-driven," he added. However, he still foresees a continuing role for humans in the service.
"The role of the driver requires lots of customer service skills, flexibility, empathy, and reading the passenger," said McCabe. Given this, he says that it's likely that AI will be conceived in a complementary role to the driver - for now at least. It may even become optional to request a human driver, as part of the premium service - for example, where an older person needs help with their bag.
Addison Lee is also involved in Project Endeavour, partly funded by C Cab and Innovate UK and in partnership with the pioneering autonomous vehicle software provider, Oxbotica. It's a roughly £50 million joint investment that is piloting a fully autonomous rideshare service in the borough of Greenwich. Addison Lee is mapping London and using passenger vehicles as instruments to collect this data, something McCabe claims is a world first.