Sunil Paul, one of the pioneers of the ride-sharing concept, is launching a new company that he hopes will help encourage the adoption of electric vehicles.
The business, called Spring Free EV, aims to tackle one of the biggest barriers to more widespread use of electric vehicles: high upfront costs. By offering financing and charging a fee per mile of use, Paul says Spring Free’s approach should make costs for electric vehicles equal to or lower than their fossil-fuel-guzzling counterparts, especially for high mileage drivers. Price parity is crucial for the startup’s first clients — fleet managers — who acquire cars in bulk and who have seen strong demand for electric vehicles on consumer car-sharing and ride-sharing platforms.
Paul co-founded Spring Free EV with Martin Lagod and Cassandra John with an ambitious first goal — to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one gigaton by 2030. That means doubling the number of electric vehicles worldwide to 200 million from the current 100 million.
The 2020 Bloomberg EV Outlook predicts there will 116 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030. Getting to 200 million won’t be easy, but Paul believes it’s necessary to slow global warming. The key is lowering the price. Paul says that even within the first five years of ownership, the total cost of a Tesla Inc. Model 3 is lower than a Toyota Camry or BMW 3 Series. Tax credits and economic incentives further reduce the total cost of electric options.
Backed by a slew of high-profile investors and entrepreneurs such as Ev Williams, Reid Hoffman, Mark Pincus and Marianne Wu, Spring Free EV contracts with electric car manufacturers including Tesla and Nissan Motor Co. to acquire the cars in bulk. Spring Free then supplies the electric vehicles to small and medium-sized fleet managers who pay based on the mileage purchase agreement.
Spring Free EV has plans for quick expansion. The company has already deployed 200 vehicles with fleet managers in six states, including HandiFleet in Texas, Flux in California, and Island Rides in Florida. Two to six fleet managers are signing up every week, and Spring Free has plans to be in 20 states by the end of 2021.
The company is only going to have an impact on the climate if it’s “insanely successful,” Paul says, and gets other companies to use the same approach. “I have been copied a lot of times in my career, but nobody wants to copy you if you aren’t successful.”
Spring Free is Paul’s second venture into the automotive business. In 2011, he co-founded the ride-sharing company Sidecar Technologies Inc., which created one of the first apps to try ride-destination tracking, discounted carpooling, and deliveries that placed people and packages on the same route. Paul hoped to have a positive environmental impact by making transportation more efficient. But four years later Sidecar was squeezed out by its better-known, better-funded rivals Lyft Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc.
Sidecar also didn’t live up to its original climate goals. Ride-sharing proved to be even worse for the environment, with each trip causing about 69% more greenhouse gases than the one it displaces, according to a report last year by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Paul knows he can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but he’s hoping that Spring Free EV can help mitigate global warming. “Can I take something I was totally wrong on and make it something where I was totally right?” he asks.
The next category of customers for Spring Free after fleet managers would be high-mileage drivers, such as delivery service providers, gig workers, and, of course, ride-sharing. “Ride-sharings have failed the climate and they also represent a great opportunity to help the climate. They are the best target to go electric,” Paul says.
By Clara Molot (Bloomberg)