UFO Drive’s vision for electric car rental is out of this world

21 Jan 2019

UFO Drive founder Aidan McClean. Image: UFO Drive

Our Start-up of the Week is UFO Drive, a mobility player founded in Luxembourg by an Irishman with big plans to revolutionise the car rental industry.

UFO Drive delivers an amazing customer experience to what is often a frustrating experience: renting a car,” explained company founder Aidan McClean.

“It’s a revolutionary new mobility solution delivering 100pc digital on-demand car rental; fast-track rental with an entirely electric fleet. Our vision is to help accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable mobility by making the switch from internal combustion vehicles simple, easy and fast.”

‘Our cars are 100pc connected to our platform 24/7. This means there is no key for the customer and all aspects of the rental experience are managed through your smartphone’

The start-up is already up and running in Luxembourg, Brussels and Hamburg, and is about to launch in Dublin.

“Using just a smartphone, you can book and drive a premium electric vehicle at very convenient pick-up locations such as airports and prime city centre ‘UFO Bays’. We currently offer the Tesla Model S, Jaguar I-Pace and the new Nissan Leaf.”

The market

Tesla car parked in front of jet on runway.

Image: UFO Drive

McClean said the company is aiming to serve those who just want to ‘arrive and drive’ without any of the hassle of renting a car, such as queueing, paperwork, selling of extras, insurance options and collecting the key.

“We are targeting regular repeat travellers, business travel and those with an environment awareness wishing to make the shift to electric vehicles.”

He said that the global car rental market is worth $70bn and growing. “Our segment presents a significant opportunity at the mid, executive and VIP levels.”

The founder

McClean spent 25 years in financial services and was originally an accountant. “But I found that too exciting,” he joked. “I moved to technology solutions and have specialised in delivering big technology transformation programmes in banking and insurance.

“Both myself and partner, Renaud Marquet, are passionate about using tech to add real value to the customer.

“Our focus is on delivering great, time-saving UX while maximising the efficiency of service delivery from a cost and lean process perspective.”

The technology

Man holding smartphone in garage in front of line of parked cars.

Image: UFO Drive

He continued: “Our mobility platform is designed around the minimal user interface possible. Customers can reserve and drive in two minutes. All aspects of the rental platform are automated, including booking, rental contract, car opening, inspection and the return process.

“Car reservation takes just three clicks and our app is designed to take the ‘fear of the unknown’ out of driving an electric car. We deal with the so called ‘range anxiety’ though an electric vehicle analytics back-office module to ensure the customer never has to worry about where and when to charge on their journey.

“Our cars are 100pc connected to our platform 24/7. This means there is no key for the customer and all aspects of the rental experience are managed through your smartphone. What we have launched so far is just the beginning. We are investing on a much wider mobility platform focused on electric cars, charging and journey management.

“Our goal is not just to rent cars but to be the go-to platform for the coming electric revolution.”

Revving up

Driver using touch screen in Tesla saloon.

Image: UFO Drive

So far, McClean said that UFO Drive has been overwhelmed and encouraged by the customer feedback it has received. “Customer growth has beaten our expectation to date and repeat customers are growing steadily.

“Customer adoption of our electric cars has been much better than expected and our customers have driven from Luxembourg as far as Berlin, Warsaw, Milan and even Connemara without incident. In fact, out of almost 1,000 journeys we had just one customer issue relating to the electric vehicle. We have now also opened in Brussels Airport, Hamburg Airport and, soon, Dublin city centre.

“We are currently working on a big expansion strategy for 2019 and are finalising plans for a funding round to help us accelerate growth.”

McClean said that the challenges faced by the company have been the typical start-up challenges. “It is not so easy to source good developers with the essential ingredient of ‘cop on’. For our airport locations, most have been very receptive to our product and of great help, but unfortunately not all are as progressive so progress is never as fast as I would like.”

Starting up and taking off

The start-up scene in Europe is also revving its engines. “Since starting UFO Drive, we have been immersed into this world. The number of great ideas starting up out there is astonishing.

“Although I’m Irish, I have lived in Luxembourg for the past six years and we decided to start up in Luxembourg first. The support and encouragement from the Luxembourg authorities has been excellent and the local business community are always eager to help good ideas.

“I think a simpler, integrated, EU-wide start-up support infrastructure would be of great help to those looking to establishment in multiple EU countries. It’s very different from state to state right now, and that slows you and adds complexity. Simply put, some countries are better than others by a big margin when it comes to start-up support.”

His advice to start-up founders is to get customer feedback early on. “Be focused on your idea and market, but don’t fall in love with your own plan; be prepared to pivot as doors close and opportunities arise. Speak to as many start-ups as you can – that’s invaluable and usually free. Think big, start small and move fast, very fast. Try prototyping your idea or product on the cheap, and test customer reaction if you can before you embark.

“One big issue is the competition for funding in the venture capital world – it’s very crowded right now so pick your timing well, otherwise you can burn a lot of time.

“I want to see Ireland thrive, but pick the right locations for your start-up. Don’t be afraid of our EU neighbours. Language is not an issue – I speak Dublinish and that works!”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years