By Glen Watson | My dad taught me how to drive, among many other things. He also taught college students how to program, and we had personal computers in our home since the late-1970s. So when he visited Hong Kong recently, it seemed appropriate to show him around Cyberport and some co-working spaces, as well as go for a drive.
Having visited the INFINITI Lab 3.0 accelerator program in Wanchai I knew about one of its startups, Cove – a Hong Kong company and the city’s first keyless car-sharing/rental service. This seemed to be a great way to show dad the latest technology, and go for a spin.
You can do everything via the Cove app from booking the vehicle and unlocking the car doors, to paying for the time used. It’s all charged by flat rate to include insurance as well as the petrol used. The general idea is that if you feel like going for a drive in a luxury car, just use the app and get the car from its parking spot. There are no lines to stand in, no people involved, no forms to fill out, no hidden charges.
I picked up a Range Rover Evoque in Tseung Kwan O, and drove out to Sai Kung and beyond. The technology worked perfectly, and it was a hassle-free afternoon spent driving with dad and reminiscing. Next time I might choose a sportier car, or a convertible.
“Cove focuses offering a variety of cars, models or brands, to our customers,” says Cove Co-founder XT Khaw. “We currently have partnerships with Jaguar, Land Rover, INFINITI and DCH Motors Leasing [that distributes Bentley, Nissan and Audi]. Most car-sharing companies provide very specific models of a brand or are brand specific, therefore focusing more on utility instead of the experience.
“Our customers can access the cars without having to go to a concierge or admin person. More importantly, we have built our own hardware that works across various brands non-invasively. This is something that does not exist in the market.”
Khaw and her team see Cove being popular in cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, where owning a car is expensive and various forms of good public transportation are available. Car-sharing is rather unpopular in these cities and therefore Cove will be able to fill the gap when consumers want flexible access to a car, such as running errands with family, weekend drives, going on dates, etc.
“We see Cove being not so popular in cities that have poor public transportation and rather spread out, such as Los Angeles,” says Khaw. “There are, however, still pockets of Los Angeles [ie, Downtown LA] that could work.”
One of the drawbacks of driving in Hong Kong is the lack of parking. Cove’s vehicles have dedicated parking spots, usually in premium locations near lifts in residential car parks, for example.
“We have gone ahead to work with property management groups and have been lucky enough for some to be more innovative and willing to give it a try,” says Khaw. “We are currently working with Great Eagle Group and Nan Fung. They both decided to offer a new amenity to their tenants and embrace technology.”
Surprisingly, one of the hurdles for Cove has been getting clients used to the idea of not using a car key. “When we launched Cove, we realized consumers were still not ready to completely rely on using the app to unlock/lock the doors,” says Khaw.
“To ease them through the process while still offering the convenience, we ran our pilots in such a way that only the first unlock and last lock is done through the app. The customers have access to the keys during their trip. This ensures that they still get the benefit of the experience being seamless, while easing them into using the app to replace a traditional key.”
Being part of INFINITI Lab 3.0 has also been beneficial for Cove. “It has been great in terms of helping us with branding and marketing,” says Khaw. “We were provided a mentor, Ben Wiggins, from the marketing team of INFINITI who has been offering a lot of his time and provided really great feedback and suggestions to shape our branding.
“As a startup, we are rather lean and do not currently have a full time marketing person and being able to have someone with Ben’s experience and calibre help us out is extremely valuable.”
The INFINITI Lab accelerator program is partnered with Nest, whose team is well connected in Hong Kong and able to make important introductions for the startups selected from all over the world.
“Through working with INFINITI and Nest the last 10 weeks, we are able to design our partnership plans with INFINITI and are excited about our future collaboration with them,” says Khaw.