Alphabet: corporate car-sharing reduces mobility costs

Serviceplan Group is one of Europe's largest advertising and communications organisations. In 2012, it implemented AlphaCity, an innovative corporate car-sharing solution from business mobility provider Alphabet. Serviceplan's managing director Florian Freiherr von Hornstein discusses how it is panning out.

AlphaCity is in operation at your offices in Munich and Hamburg. How does a car-sharing solution contribute to your business model?

Florian Freiherr von Hornstein: Being innovative, up to date and on the ball are core values of our industry, and essential aspects of our general business approach. To be successful at what we do, our employees need to be fast, flexible and on the move. As a result, we need comprehensive and accessible employee mobility. With AlphaCity, we have found that.

Did you have any experience of car-sharing or pooling prior to your AlphaCity venture?

Yes, we had 20 years of experience with our own car pool. AlphaCity is the first professional car-sharing solution to be adopted at Serviceplan. Before that, we ran an in-house pool that was time-consuming and non-efficient. It was a basic model operated from our reception desk. It involved lots of administration with handwritten calendars and driver log books. For the users, it demanded extensive preparation time and hassle. You had to call a busy reception to book a car, pick up a key at a certain time, organise handover with the next user, and so on. You couldn't always depend on getting a car, even if you had reserved one. For example, if reception wasn't manned when you came to pick up the key, then you had no car access.

What attracted you to a professional car-sharing solution such as AlphaCity?

We wanted a solution that offered a premium service, minimised our administrative burden and was cost-efficient. Simultaneously, I liked the look of the new car-sharing models that were popping up in cities throughout Europe. In particular, I was attracted to the automated aspect of these services. A car could be booked, picked up and driven without ever having to talk to another person. It was all done online, with credit-card payment and keyless access and driving.

You chose Alphabet's AlphaCity solution. Why?

Alphabet has established a good reputation in corporate car-sharing. We knew of other companies where AlphaCity had been successfully implemented. In addition, Alphabet takes a personal approach in its dealings and they offer tailor-made solutions. In that respect, it listened carefully to what we required and then presented us with a programme that was specific to our needs. Another important reason in our decision to implement AlphaCity was the personal use aspect of the solution: with AlphaCity, pool cars could be used for private journeys too.

What is the advantage of personal car use?

Actually, there are several advantages. Firstly, by adding a personal use option, you enhance the car pool's efficiency. Otherwise, if pool cars are only used during the day from Monday to Friday and are then standing idle in the car park the rest of the time, the pool is not operating at full capacity. With AlphaCity, the car-sharing aspect is expanded outside of business use so that employees can borrow cars during leisure time and pay for private use with their credit card. For many employees who live in the city, a bike is all they need to get around. With personal use of pool cars, they now have a car when they really need it and don't have to consider buying one. Overall, personal use is beneficial from an employee incentive, environmental and cost-efficiency aspect.

In what way does the personal use aspect of this car-sharing solution promote cost-efficiency?

Every time an employee pays for the use of a car, the income generated can be offset against our costs. In fact, at this stage of our cooperation with Alphabet on this programme, we can say that the use of the cars is covering almost 100% of the associated leasing costs.

What about your other requirements such as less administration and higher service quality?

Both of those criteria have also been met and, in fact, exceeded by Alphabet's solution. From a management perspective, the administration is hassle-free. Employees book cars using an online reservation system. Costs are automatically allocated to the appropriate cost centre or, for personal use, paid for using a credit card. A special radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip on the driver's licence enables car access. Driving is keyless thanks to the latest telematic technology. The cars offered in this solution are top of the range MINI and BMW models, which makes for a pleasurable driving experience.

You have 900 employees at your Munich office. How many vehicles did you need to meet needs there?

Our current AlphaCity set-up features just five cars at our Munich office and two in Hamburg. Those five cars meet our daily driving requirements in Munich; four electric bikes also form part of our Munich pool. The bikes are handy for short trips. However, although we do not lease those electric bikes from Alphabet, they were still happy to integrate them into the AlphaCity online booking platform for us, so that the bikes and cars can be reserved on the one system.

Were there any problems during implementation?

No. Alphabet impressed us from the offset with their hands-on approach and high level of service. They have taken care of every aspect of the implementation and running of AlphaCity, making it truly hands-free. They began by launching the solution at a special reception for our employees. During that event, they presented the car-sharing programme and its benefits. Our team was impressed by the personal use aspect and its comparatively low cost. Alphabet carried out the membership registration on the spot and applied the RFID chip to drivers' licences. The online reservation and accounting system was set up by Alphabet prior to the launch event; Alphabet then delivered the cars. We were even able to rebrand them to fit in with our in-house series of employee services, such as weTravel and weSport. So, at Serviceplan, the car-sharing solution is called weDrive. That was an additional service from Alphabet that we really appreciated.

What do your employees think of the solution?

We set up a feedback function on our company intranet and never has a project received such an overwhelmingly positive response from our staff as AlphaCity/weDrive. Even those who don't use it think it is a great offer. Alongside the private use benefits, the simplicity and convenience of the scheme won employees over from the beginning. In particular, our younger staff members have been impressed. They had no trepidation about using the new solution as they have already tried out public car-sharing systems that function in a similar way to AlphaCity. We also know from the 'repeat use' of the solution that it is working positively. Nowadays, our car pool is always operating at full capacity.

What are your plans for expanding Alphabet's corporate car-sharing solution and perhaps integrating electric vehicles into the pool?
We are looking at expanding the programme to include other company sites. We are considering a launch at our Frankfurt office and we will add another car in Hamburg. Electric mobility plays a role in these plans - in fact, we've already ordered a BMW i3 for delivery in April 2014. As a result of the impressive cost-savings we have incurred, we are looking at ways to optimise our fleet further using AlphaCity. That way, we can get the best possible benefits for our organisation.

Serviceplan’s managing director Florian Freiherr von Hornstein.
Serviceplan Group’s Florian Freiherr von Hornstein with a top-of-the-range BMW, part of the AlphaCity corporate car-sharing solution.