START-UP: MELLOWCABS move with elec­tric mi­cro-cabs

Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - BY KELLY BEROLD

How do we im­prove pub­lic trans­port in South Africa? While Govern­ment strug­gles to find ways to mend the coun­try’s ten­u­ous com­muter sys­tem, one an­swer may be with a small hand­ful of lo­cal en­trepreneurs who are qui­etly mak­ing big plans (and con­sid­er­able head­way) for the fu­ture of how we get around. One of those key play­ers is Neil du Preez, founder of Mellowcabs, a se­ries of elec­tric mi­cro­cabs that of­fer free first and last mile trans­port for those on the move.

What ex­actly are Mellowcabs and how do they work?

Mellowcabs man­u­fac­tures and op­er­ates new, su­per­cool elec­tric mini-cabs that pro­vide on-de­mand and af­ford­able taxi ser­vices in cities. These ser­vices can be pro­vided, through our mo­bile app, call-cen­tre or web­site. We have two in­come sources: pas­sen­ger fares (we pro­vide a more af­ford­able op­tion that tra­di­tional cabs) and ad­ver­tis­ing, which we dis­play on and in­side the ve­hi­cles. We’ll pro­vide first- and last-mile trans­port in cities, con­nect­ing peo­ple with ex­ist­ing trans­port hubs, restau­rants, ho­tels, schools, uni­ver­si­ties, con­fer­ence cen­tres and homes.

We’re a bit of a two-part start-up in that, on the one hand, we’re try­ing to push out a highly in­no­va­tive, sus­tain­able and in­tri­cate new piece of tech and on the other, we’re at­tempt­ing to tackle so­cial is­sues that have oc­curred within the trans­port sys­tem.

Where did that idea come from?

The trans­port sec­tor is ar­guably one of the big­gest in the world. Every­one, from First-World, high-in­come zones, to dirt poor cities need ef­fi­cient trans­port. I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in pub­lic trans­port sys­tems and what they mean for in­di­vid­u­als and the econ­omy in gen­eral. Grow­ing up in South Africa we didn’t have ac­cess to cer­tain pub­lic trans­port meth­ods. Then, af­ter liv­ing abroad for a few years, I started see­ing tran­sit sys­tems in a new light and started work­ing and de­vel­op­ing ideas around mi­cro trans­port. It’s been a lot of hard work. And the last hur­dle, which is the im­ple­men­ta­tion phase, is still in front of us.

Are you on the roads al­ready?

We are in the fi­nal pre-pro­duc­tion stages of a new gen­er­a­tion of Mellowcabs, fea­tur­ing a brand new shell de­sign, driv­e­train and a host of other tech­no­log­i­cal fea-

tures, which will be rev­o­lu­tion­ary and a world first for mi­cro- cabs. We ex­pect the launch within the next two to three months. It’s go­ing to be re­ally af­ford­able, be­tween R15 and R20 per trip, de­pend­ing where we op­er­ate.

How do you get peo­ple to adopt the idea of us­ing your mini­cabs, par­tic­u­larly those in low-in­come ar­eas?

Low-in­come ar­eas are a no-go zone, as it’s con­trolled by the minibus-taxi mafia un­for­tu­nately.

We’re plan­ning high-vis­i­bil­ity PR cam­paigns that will cre­ate a lot of hype around us, and ob­vi­ously by pro­vid­ing safe, ef­fi­cient, af­ford­able and qual­ity trans­port… plus a whole lot of cool.

Are you plan­ning to ex­pand in­ter­na­tion­ally, and how fea­si­ble is it to em­ploy the Mellowcabs model over­seas?

We’ve gone through ex­ten­sive road­wor­thi­ness test­ing and the new ve­hi­cle will com­ply with United Na­tions road­wor­thi­ness stan­dards, mean­ing that we can op­er­ate le­gally on just about any city road.

It’s a fact that 80% of all ur­ban taxi trips are shorter than three miles [4.8km], which is an ex­tremely in­ef­fi­cient use of fuel burn­ing en­gines, but would be ideal for elec­tric taxis. This makes Mellowcabs re­ally rel­e­vant. We have a clear vi­sion, which is to bring Mellowcabs to ev­ery ma­jor city in the world.

Who de­vel­oped the tech­nol­ogy?

Most of the tech­nol­ogy has been de­vel­oped in-house, or in con­junc­tion with part­ners like de­sign ex­perts Ideso, with whom we col­lab­o­rated in de­sign of the ve­hi­cle.

There’s another wildly suc­cess­ful pub­lic trans­port start-up dom­i­nat­ing the mar­ket both here and in­ter­na­tion­ally (you know which one I’m talk­ing about). How do

you plan to com­pete?

Mellowcabs has the en­tire pack­age: we re­ally are clos­ing the loop on trans­port in­no­va­tion by both man­u­fac­tur­ing and op­er­at­ing the ve­hi­cles. Like Uber and oth­ers, we have our own app that has the same func­tion­al­ity, plus it has been cus­tomised for in­te­gra­tion with our ve­hi­cles, and some nifty new fea­tures, such as lan­guage op­tions, and var­i­ous pay­ment op­tions. That be­ing said, we’ve had pro­duc­tive dis­cus­sions with Uber both in South Africa and abroad.

What’s next for Mellowcabs in 2015?

Wow, you’re go­ing to see Mellowcabs all over South Africa – hopef ully they will cre­ate pos­i­tive change.

Neil du Preez

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