“Singapore’s largest car-sharing service.” The title itself is no laughing matter. With cutting edge tech development to maximise ease-of-use, Smove is innovating Singapore’s transport stagnancy.
Smovin’ on Up
While Smove is not the brainchild of one of the co-founders, Joseph Ting, he has played an integral role in growing the business to what it is today.
Joseph came on board 5 and a half years ago, after watching an interview with founder Tom Lokenvitz on BBC, about the then-small green vehicle sharing start-up. He was “inspired”, he recalls.
I reached out to the founder and took a chance as I was passionate about the idea of shared mobility,” Joseph says.
Today, Smove is “Singapore’s largest car-sharing service” – no small feat. In part, this is due to it being a technology company first; a technology company in the transport industry.
Smove’s bread and butter comes from their proprietary and in-house developed technology – a small device that allows ease of access to their rental vehicles. The device, called a Smart Hardware Unit (SHU), houses all Smove’s tech into one compact device accessible wirelessly from the outside of the vehicle. Fuss-free, you can access your pre-booked car with your EZ link card – something that everyone has. “so Smove acts as a complement to public transport,” Joseph says.
The added layer of ingenuity is that parking in Singapore is mainly in basements, where phones, Wi-Fi and radio don’t work. Hence the SHU calling system works by pinging every five minutes, as each unit has its own SIM card, thus saving the info for every vehicle periodically.
It is not just the technology that is Smove’s greatest selling point, but more what Smove’s technology can access. Joseph’s calls it a true “free-floating service”.
It’s not fixed to any one location, the cars instead go to the locations,” Joseph says.
The source of their true free-floating system? Firstly, they have over 86 pick-up locations across the island, giving their users maximum choice possible. Secondly, they utilise a smart (and proprietary) booking algorithm, which decides what is efficient and/or profitable.
For example, you want to book a car for pick-up at Punggol. Currently, there are no such models available at said pick-up point. The smart algorithm makes a decision on whether it’s possible to relocate the car based on various factors, which it does, because luckily, there is about to be one dropped off by a previous renter at Pasir Ris. Your pick-up time comes around and to no surprise, there is a Toyota Prius waiting for you in the app allotted carpark space. You simply tap your card to get in and drive off – only to leave the vehicle several hours later in Orchard, your final destination for the day and also the place for the next customer to pick it up from.
The whole system is streamlined to require minimal input. “We keep it lean, with a small team, because the smart system greatly reduces the manpower required,” Joseph says.
This was not how Smove always operated, however. At it’s inception, the niche-market they were selling to was electric vehicle rentals. When Smove began, it had just five electric cars and a handful of ebikes.
“It was as painful decision to make, but necessary,” Joseph says.
It was mainly the limitations of electric vehicles 3 years ago – the maximum drivable distance. “Which is about 120 to 140 kilometres on a single charge with current technology, barring Tesla,” Joseph says. Additionally, there was the added issue of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Singapore, which also limited the number of available pick-up and drop-off locations.
Joseph says, “we were idealistic, maybe too idealistic, the [Singaporean] market wasn’t ready.” It was a learning experience for Smove, he says, and they were forced to adjust to market realities. In spite of pivoting their business model, Smove still wanted to retain their eco-friendliness.
After 6 months-plus of re-strategizing, Smove emerged with 1 Toyota Prius C.
Now they have Singapore’s largest sharing fleet, of varying models – including BMW’s and Mazda 3’s, to cater for a wider market demographic.
Joseph’s biggest takeaway – and a lesson for all those in start-ups – is flexibility. “Ultimately, we are a nimble company, and we had to change to meet expectations and realities,” Joseph says.
In order to expand, their model did not call for simply purchasing more cars. Instead, they offer their platform and tech, the SHU and the algorithm, to partners. “Moving ahead, Smove will work with partners in the industry to grow the space for mobility services in Singapore and beyond”, Joseph says.
Smove provides the tech and their partners provide the fleet of vehicles.