At our Three Things Summit last month, we were joined by industry leaders who showcased how AI has redefined the boundaries within their businesses. One of the most inspiring case studies on offer was that of Otto Car – Europe’s largest fleet of private-hire, electric vehicles – presented by Founder and MD, Gurinder Dhillon.

Gurinder created Otto Car in 2015 with a singular purpose in mind. “The greatest brands in the world own one word”, he explained. “Google owns knowledge, Red Bull owns danger, and you might say Nike owns success, so we decided that we were going to own safety.” Their mission was to make sure that every passenger to board one of their vehicles would come home safely, and they implemented a variety of practices to facilitate that.

Going the Extra Mile

“Initially, we made it mandatory for every person who hired one of our cars to take a driving test”, Gurinder revealed. “So, even though they had a driving license already, we weren’t going to let them take one of our cars unless we knew our children would be safe in the back of it.” Otto Car therefore began to employ driving instructors to determine whether potential customers were safe drivers or not.

Gurinder Dhillon

Gurinder DhillonOtto Car

Gurinder Dhillon is the founder and CEO of Otto Car, who nurtured the simple idea of enabling Uber drivers to own their own cars into a thriving enterprise.

Built from the ground up, Otto Car is now Europe’s largest private hire fleet of electric vehicles.

The issue with that, Otto Car realised, was that drivers would simply put on their best performance for the test, which would not translate to how they would drive in normal circumstances. “We installed telematics devices in our vehicles”, continued Gurinder, “to get the data that would provide an insight into how they were driving on the roads.”

Again, however, the utility of that data was highly limited. Without any context, there was no way of knowing why a driver was braking suddenly, for instance. “Were they braking because someone had stepped into the road?” Gurinder asked. “Or were they braking in that way because they hadn’t been paying attention?”

A New Standard in Safety

The innovative solution Otto Car devised was enabled by technology. They installed cameras in every vehicle so they could see what drivers were doing when the telematic system recorded spikes in braking, speed, or other instances of unusual driving. To monitor all that data and footage, however, was an insurmountable task. At least, it was until the introduction of AI.

“We effectively had 5,000 eyes watching our drivers live”, Gurinder shared, “but the combined mileage of our fleet equates to circling the globe every 2 hours. So, we invested in AI that would pick up on drivers who were distracted, falling asleep, or smoking, for example.”

Otto Car’s fascinating application of AI has allowed them to provide an unprecedented level of safety within their industry. If their AI identifies a dangerous driver, it notifies Gurinder’s team so they can reach out and try to coach the individual. Inevitably, however, some drivers ignore that warning, and in that case, Otto Car can then revoke their insurance, ensuring that dangerous drivers are removed from the roads before they can cause any harm.

Boosting Business Performance and Growth

This revolutionary approach to safety has not only furthered Otto Car’s pursuit of safety, but also turbocharged the company’s growth. “It’s usually around £2,500 to insure a vehicle in our industry”, Gurinder established, “but our enhanced risk management means we can reduce that to below £1,200.”

With their premiums more than halved, Otto Car began to accelerate away from their competitors at an alarming rate. “Once you multiply that by all the cars you have, it starts to give you a much better level of performance”, Gurinder shared. “And that meant the banks would lend us more money to invest in growth because we were the best performing business in our sector.”

Otto Car is currently the market leader in the car rental industry, with a staggering 50% market share. AI has played a significant role in that success, but Gurinder was keen to stress that it was not the driving force.

“Everything was driven by the message of bringing our loved ones home safely”, he asserted, “and the internal ethos of the business was to make our mothers proud. But I do think the tech has been so important, to the extent that, without it, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

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Otto Car’s journey is a clear illustration of how AI can provide a business with a competitive advantage, but it’s important to remember that that came as more of a biproduct than anything else. Otto Car didn’t decide to implement AI because they thought it would improve their P&L; they implemented it because they believed it would further their mission to make their service the safest it could be. The success the business experienced thereafter was purely organic, and shows that technology, like AI, is best used to improve service quality, rather than directly for financial gain.

Three Things

Gurinder rounded off his case study with his Three Things – three pieces of actionable advice you can implement to improve your business, today:

number 1

Stay Curious

“You’ve got to have a curious mind”, Gurinder confirmed. “You must always be looking for ways to differentiate, because a Prius is a Prius, and finance is finance. You have to figure out how to make your car shinier than the rest.”

Otto Car identified safety as the best way to set their service apart from the rest, but it was their curiosity that led them to implement technology to aid that goal. Staying curious, especially when it comes to technology, can be a potent method of staying ahead of the competition.

number 2

Act with Intent

“Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to differentiate, you have to go all in on it”, Gurinder insisted. “A lot of us try to do too many things in business, when it’s really only one or two levers that will change your prospects. It’s a case of finding that lever and acting on it with intent.” He went on to reference Amazon as a prime example, citing their unerring focus on being the best at delivery as the key to their success.

“With eBay, it’s up to you. One vendor will deliver it in a day, another will take seven days. But Amazon always said you’ll get it tomorrow, so when you buy something and you want it tomorrow, there’s only one place you go. Focus on one thing, own it in your industry, and that will give you leverage over everyone else.”

number 3

Invest in Expertise

“We hired a bunch of developers and thought we could build the tech from the ground up”, Gurinder revealed. “What we should have done is hire a CTO, which felt very expensive at the time, but you need someone who knows and understands the thing you’re trying to implement. There is a lot of smoke and mirrors in tech, and if you’re a non-tech, you can burn money without realising it, so although it might be expensive, you need someone who knows how long it takes to change a tire.”