Fleet mobility in the city
As Alphabet launches its new AlphaCity corporate car sharing scheme, Steve Moody looks at how it works and the benefits for fleets.
First impressions of Alphabet’s new AlphaCity car sharing scheme is that it is just a very posh pool car scheme.
Basically, a firm leases a car (or however many they might need) from Alphabet, which is set-up with access and start-up via an electronic booking and entry system.
Workers registered on the programme can then book the car during office hours, with the rental charge, whatever the rate a company might set that at, sent to the relevant cost centre. Employees can also hire the car outside office hours, as long as they pay market rate rental prices (to avoid benefit-in-kind issues). By encouraging this, firms could claw back the monthly leasing cost of the car after a few hour rentals and make the scheme effectively cost neutral.
So back to my first reaction: a posh pool car scheme. To an extent, Richard Schooling, Chief Executive of Alphabet, agrees, but says there is more to it than that.
‘AlphaCity will offer our customers increased flexibility, freedom and cost-effectiveness,’ he says. ‘Whenever we have raised the concept in discussions, our customers have been hugely enthusiastic about its potential to meet the mobility needs of their non-company-car drivers.
‘We’ve made AlphaCity as painless and productive as possible for customers. They simply lease the cars, provide parking spaces, tell their staff about the scheme, with guidance from Alphabet, and let us do the rest.
‘The cars are aspirational. The experience of using AlphaCity is fun and high-tech. And the membership aspect fosters a feeling of shared responsibility that mitigates against colleagues returning cars late, dirty or without fuel. AlphaCity isn’t just a new way of delivering mobility, it helps employers drive desired behaviours.
‘For the employee, it’s like joining a car club that’s exclusive to people working for their company. They get a membership card that also operates the car’s keyless entry system and, when they need to make a journey, they reserve an AlphaCity car in advance on our booking system via the Internet or mobile website.’
The AlphaCity platform enables Alphabet to monitor and record the vehicles’ usage and create reports and itemised invoices for customers broken down by cost centre, if requested.
It also overcomes the familiar drawbacks of pool cars around control of the keys, a perennial problem, and also very cleverly controls the condition of the car. The screen fitted to the MINI (or X1 or 1 Series, also available on the scheme) asks you a series of questions before you start off about the condition of the car, both internally and externally.
So who will use the scheme? Schooling believes that it suits best larger companies with more than one site, probably with urban locations where employees don’t drive to work, and firms that have technology or environmentalism as key drivers of their business.
Essentially, it’s a hybrid between pool cars, rental and car clubs, using technology to make the system work. To make the product a success, Alphabet will have to consult with interested potential client to ensure they understand how much they already spend on pool cars, rental and taxis, but with the opportunity to brand the cars as well for local advertising, you can see how forward thinking businesses could well find a role for Alphacity.
The leasing model: How Alphacity works…
AlphaCity is believed to be the first corporate car sharing scheme in Europe to operate on a leasing model. Customers lease the cars on a normal full maintenance monthly rental plus a service charge for the AlphaCity elements (reservation facility, in-vehicle solution, vehicle cleaning etc.). Customers thus ‘own’ their AlphaCity cars and can therefore offer their staff assured mobility around the clock.
All AlphaCity cars are BMW and MINI models. The primary reason for choosing BMW products is because they incorporate a proven factory-fitted telematics and communication platform – BMW ConnctedDrive/MINI Connected. This gives Alphabet reliable control over drivers’ access to AlphaCity cars as well as the facility to record each use, and manage utilisation as appropriate.