Perspectives on the Future of Mobility and Autonomous Driving

by Bill Russo

I recently attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where traditional automakers, suppliers and several technology firms were showcasing their vision of the future of mobility.  Of particular interest were the many demonstrations and announcements related to autonomous vehicles.  Early forms of this technology are finding their way into commercial applications in the form of “assisted driving” features which incorporate cameras and radar/lidar to provide the car an extra set of eyes to sense its surroundings and inform the driver of risks.  Rapid advancement of technologies needed to fully automate the driving process is also evident, indicating that robotic forms of transportation will be possible within at least 2 industry product cycles (5-10 years).

The following is a Q&A which offers a perspective on the future of mobility and the design and function of autonomous vehicles.

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  1. The Autonomous Driving (AD) era will allow for an entirely new driving experience for drivers and passengers.  How much of an impact will AD technology have on the comfort and convenience of driving?

Autonomous Driving will completely redefine the comfort and convenience of transportation.  In our current paradigm, comfort is designed around the driver and occupants in an externally focused manner:  with eyes to the road.  The space around the front seat occupants – both driver and passenger – is oriented to the information needed to manually drive the car to its destination. Autonomous vehicles will experience fewer accidents, over 95% of which are attributable to human error.  Cars can therefore be lighter, with less structure without compromising occupant safety.  Traffic jams will be less common since autonomous vehicles will be able to leverage vehicle-to infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle connectivity in order to avoid congestion and smooth the flow of traffic.

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  1. When you look back at the public’s embrace of big technology shifts – trains or commercial aviation for instance – to what extent was that shift motivated by the convenience of the new mode of transportation?

Convenience always shapes our choices when it comes to transportation.  Human beings are inherently explorers and some of history’s greatest inventions – wheels, bicycles, steamships, trains, cars, and airplanes – have allowed us to be mobile over greater and greater distances.  Over time, each of these inventions added more and more convenience-oriented features to make the experience of mobility more “painless”.  Mobility devices are themselves a convenience which allow us to get where we want to be without walking.  All forms of public and privately-owned transportation are solving this basic problem of minimizing our travel time.  Each solution became commercially viable by offering a benefit versus other forms of transportation that some people were willing to pay to either use or own.  For example, trains reduce travel time across a country from months to days, and commercial aviation reduced this to hours.  We can now circle the world by jet in a little more than a day, a journey the first explorers could not complete in several years, if they lived to tell the tale.   In recent history, owing to the invention of the internal combustion engine powered car (Carl Benz in 1886), and the moving assembly line (Henry Ford in 1908) the car became the primary means for the average person to satisfy their daily commuting needs.  In the increasingly urbanized world of the 21st century, we will experience the next evolution in convenient human mobility:  personalized, autonomous mobility on-demand.

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  1. What are some ways in which the Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology already in the market, like cruise control, is increasing comfort and convenience for drivers and passengers?

Such technologies act as “support” systems for drivers which allow more tasks to be “delegated” to the car.  For example,  cruise control allows a driver to focus less on maintaining a constant speed and thereby improves the driving experience.  Routine or mundane tasks like parking or adjusting speeds while driving on highways are already becoming mainstream.  Lane departure warning, parking assistance, and cruise control are features that allow the driver to focus less on routine tasks and focus on the actual experience of driving.  Over time, the number of tasks that can be handled by the “smart car” will increase in order to reduce “pain points” of driving and making the overall experience more convenient, safer and therefore more enjoyable for the occupant.

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  1. In addition to the advantages of existing ADAS and autonomous driving technologies, what are consumers most focused on when it comes to comfort and convenience of fully autonomous vehicles?

With Autonomous driving, a new paradigm can be established to re-focus the passenger on how to productively use their transportation time.  Observing the outside of the car moves from a requirement to a choice – especially for the user of a mobility service.  Space that is allocated to providing driver information can be repurposed from a driver-passenger perspective to a “connected user” perspective.  Beyond mobility, a fully autonomous vehicle’s key benefit will be the experience it gives to the user, and the primary benefit which comes from delegating the task of driving to the car is PRODUCTIVE TIME.  As such, while the purpose of the car as a transportation device has not changed, the very concept of how to treat and offer convenience-oriented features to the occupant is different:  the autonomous vehicle is built with a “user-centric” mindset, as opposed to a “driver-centric” mindset.

An autonomous car, especially one used in longer-distance (>10km) commuting distances will need to be able to transform travel time into productive time through convenient services which may include infotainment (watching news/video, gaming), online communication (social networking, e-mail, conference calls), or online-to-offline services (discounts or promotions based on mobility patterns).  In the world of personalized, autonomous mobility on-demand, the car essentially becomes a connected rolling space that transports us between the places we live, work, and play.

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  1. What Autonomous Driving feature will consumers be most surprised by and also what core functionally will they gravitate to most?

For people born in the late 20th century, it will be difficult to reimagine this new form of mobility.  Most of us from this period see a car through a nostalgic lens:  our most prized possession outside of our home, and the one that we can take with us to showcase our lifestyle and aspirations.  For many, this will never change.

However, mobility is being revolutionized by digital technology.  The rapid emergence of ride-hailing services such as Uber, Lyft, Ola, and Didi Chuxing are transforming the car into a transportation service device.  It is in this mode that we can see a great fit for autonomous forms of mobility – as the operators of such services will benefit from not having to incur the cost of a driver, along with the lower maintenance and repair cost of autonomous vehicles.  Users of such services expect to be driven and are not seeking the driving experience in any case.

The most surprising aspect of this type of vehicle will be that it affords its users the opportunity to turn inward and use their time productively.  Future cars used for short commuting will be smaller and occupy less physical space:  they simply pick people up and drop them off and do this with minimal “extras”.  These will be summoned by an app on a mobile device.  Longer commuting will be done in autonomous vehicles which have spaces designed to address the productivity needs of the occupants:  with connectivity and consumption of content at the core.  Such cars may be booked or offered through a “subscription model” to give the users some flexibility in the service offering.  The shift in this paradigm will surprise people the most since these vehicles will be designed from a pure passenger experience perspective which will include how to entertain or delight the user during the journey.

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  1. Self-parking, one of the earlier semiautonomous features, is now found on many mainstream models and widely used by drivers. Do you think the public will adopt more complex autonomous features or a fully autonomous vehicle in the same manner?

The commercialization path for more complex and fully autonomous driving will be very different than what we seen so far.  In the current owner/driver-centric business paradigm, new features have to be sold to customers who accept the value proposition of the technology and are willing to pay for it.  Early-stage technologies typically come with a heavy price premium and are typically introduced to “premium” brands where customers are less price sensitive.  However, barring regulatory intervention, this will likely limit adoption of technologies including electric and autonomous vehicles as there are cheaper alternatives (conventional engines and human drivers).

The game-changer for both electric and autonomous vehicles comes from the convergence of On-Demand Mobility (ODM) with electric and autonomous vehicles.  ODM players, such as Uber and Lyft are highly investing in autonomous vehicles as a means of lowering their operating costs and unlocking the potential to participate in the Digital ecosystem through offering the users of its services access to content and O2O services.  This will create a new pathway to commercializing and scaling up the autonomous driving technology in a way that has not been seen before:  as we have seen with other “smart devices”, hardware innovation is backed by the digital ecosystem and thereby eventually becomes mainstream for everyone.

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  1. Since road conditions vary globally, will perceptions of comfort and convenience vary by country? For example, will it permeate places like Amsterdam where many travel by bicycle or public transportation already?

Comfort and convenience are solutions to mobility “pain points”, and the degree to which people experience these pain points varies greatly based on where we live.

Mobility pain is much higher in densely populated urban cities like New York, London, Paris, New Delhi, Mexico City and virtually all major cities in China.  The driving experience in highly urbanized countries like China can be horrific.  Cities like Beijing experience gridlock conditions at several times during a day, and suffer from severe environmental impact from the tailpipe and other emissions.  Electric and autonomous mobility on demand would be a welcome solution to address these mobility pain points.

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  1. From a societal perspective, how will AD technology change the way individuals get to and from their various destinations?

Adoption of autonomous driving technology will improve flow of traffic, reduce accidents and improve the quality of life in an increasingly urbanized world.  Scaling up this technology through the convergence of ODM with electric and autonomous vehicles in these cities will accelerate a transition from a transportation model where we own an under-utilized asset that is used 1-2 hours per day to a model where autonomous cars, directed by a smart-city transportation grid, are deployed on demand to where they are needed.  This is a far more efficient system where we will witness a shift from ownership of hardware toward paying for the utility that is derived from the hardware.

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  1. When it comes to commuting, how will AD technology ease the problem of extensive traffic jams in cities like Beijing or Los Angeles?

Autonomous vehicles deployed by on-demand mobility services fleets will be able to communicate with each other, and will be directed to and from users and their destinations by a Smart City transportation network.  These cars will be highly utilized assets, which minimizes the amount of city space which needs to be allocated for parking lots for cars which sit idle for more than 22 hours a day.  Cars can be routed around the traffic, minimizing the traffic jams that define the life of residents of cities like Los Angeles and Shanghai.  Smart, connected, and autonomous mobility devices backed by advanced algorithms used to govern the mobility patterns will improve the livability of cities in an increasingly urbanized world.

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  1. Besides the impact AD will have on productivity, how else will it improve lives for people outside of transportation?

Autonomous driving will have a tremendous impact on our environmental footprint.  The technologies required to power and govern a network of personalized, electric and autonomous mobility on demand (A-MOD) have the potential to transform the lives of people all over the world.  For example, these increasingly electric-powered vehicles will be also be part of the energy storage grid, we could very well moderate energy consumption and potentially shrink our carbon footprint.  Transportation innovation has reshaped the history of mankind, and the transportation revolution of the next decade will set the course and has the potential to improve the lives of all generations to follow.

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Bill Russo is the Managing Director and Automotive Practice Leader at Gao Feng Advisory Company, based in Shanghai.  He has 30 years of automotive industry experience and has lives and worked in China since 2004.  He was formerly the leader of Chrysler Group’s business in North East Asia.

Scientists: AI will free Beijing from traffic jams

Tech Wire Asia, September 20, 2016

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With a population of over 20 million, Beijing citizens face traffic congestion on a regular basis despite the government’s efforts to maintain a smooth traffic flow, such as tolls, car usage limitations, and public transport subsidies.

But top scientists believe that artificial intelligence (AI) could – and in the near future, will – solve this problem.

According to Sixth Tone, on Saturday, scientists said at a lecture at New York University’s Shanghai campus that autonomous vehicles will aide smoother traffic flow in less than a decade.

 Fei Yue Wang, director of the State Key Laboratory for Management and Control of Complex Systems, is certain that Beijing will no longer see traffic jams in five years’ time as they begin implementing AI in everyday tasks, including transportation, the article noted.

AI scientists are attempting to design self-driving cars that are able to drive smoothly and avoid sudden slowdowns and collisions that cause traffic congestion.

SEE ALSO: No more ‘carmageddon’: Can self-driving cars really end long city traffic jams?

According to Tsinghua University Professor Li Keqiang, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has outlined a plan that allows autonomous vehicles to access highways within three to five years, and city centers by 2025.

With today’s advancements in science and technology, this five-year prediction is certainly not impossible.

Bill Russo, automobile consultant from Gao Feng Advisory Company, said as it stands, full optimization of self-driving automotive technology is more a matter of regulation than science.

“Unlike other countries, China has the capacity to drive the market from the top down and create the right circumstances for self-driving cars,” Russo was quoted saying.

Therefore, the government needs to open more doors for self-driven and human-driven vehicles to operate side-by-side on roads, he said.

SEE ALSO: China’s Baidu gets California’s nod to test self-driving cars

Currently, self-driving cars are banned on public roads in China. Automobile players, however, view this restriction as a slowdown for the industry. Tech giants around the world like Google, Baidu and Alibaba, are already tapping into the automobile industry as their next business target.

As Forbes said last month, China “will be reluctant to forbid semi-autonomous cars completely.”

“The country has too much at stake, it has invested heavily in autonomous technology and urges its automakers and tech companies to develop autonomous cars,” it pointed out.

But after a number of fatal incidents, a ministry official in China recently said drivers could be held liable for accidents with advanced driver-assistance systems, a China Daily report said.

SEE ALSO: Singapore rolls out world’s first self-driving taxis, as Uber starts testing theirs

The report quoting China’s deputy head of Bureau of Work Safety Jin Xin said when fully autonomous vehicles hit the road, the manufacturer would become legally responsible for accidents.

But according to Yu Kai, founder of the Institute of Deep Learning – China’s first AI research and development center – the country’s automobile industry is anticipating the commercialization of autonomous vehicles as Chinese consumers are beginning to expect cars to be connected devices.

Yu also believes that self-driving cars could go on roads within 10 years.

“My focus is creating innovative technology to put in the car, to make the car independently intelligent.

“We are working with car manufacturers on how give their vehicles the ability to plan and make decisions, using a combination of sensors, processors, and algorithms,” Yu said, as quoted by Sixth Tone.

Click here to read this article at techwireasia.com

Bill Russo to Chair the Connected Mobility ROADSHOW Conference

Shanghai, China, December 1, 2016

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Bill Russo, the Managing Director and Automotive Practice leader at Gao Feng Advisory Company will  chair the Connected Mobility Roadshow conference in Shanghai – hosted by Messe Frankfurt.

The main players in the mobility industry are currently re-evaluating their positions, for connected mobility promises huge potential: by 2020, the market for interconnected cars is expected to have increased by 45% – ten times the growth of the general automobile market. It is estimated that in five years, three quarters of all new cars will be able to connect, and, from 2025, autonomic driving could be possible outside of protected areas.

The Explosive Growth Opportunity in China’s Automotive Aftermarket

Gao Feng Insights Report, August 2016

We are pleased to share with you our paper titled: The Explosive Growth Opportunity in China’s Automotive Aftermarket.  In this report, we examine one of the major discontinuities shaping the future of the Chinese auto market:  the rapid expansion of the independent aftermarket (IAM).

China’s automotive market is transitioning from a period of rapid growth in new car sales to a slower pattern of expansion going forward.  While this slower pattern of growth is a concern for automakers and suppliers, the market remains at historically high levels of sales, and the car population continues to expand at double digit rates annually.  In addition, the average age of the vehicle population is rising.  Add to this a recent push by the Chinese government to allow sales of original equipment service (OES) parts by independent service providers, coupled with the emergence of digital platforms for accessing services, the conditions are ripe for discontinuous expansion of the independent aftermarket.

All of these factors are contributing to an explosive expansion of the automotive aftermarket services business in China.  In this environment, automakers and suppliers are seeking ways to offer a clear and differentiated value proposition in order to succeed in the aftermarket, and they must act quickly to compete with new entrants who are seeking to disrupt the traditional service model.

We welcome your comments and feedback on our briefing paper or in general about our firm. We would be glad to meet you in person to share our data and perspectives in a fuller manner. Please let us know if you are interested in meeting and discussing directly how we can help you to operationalize these insights.

Thought leadership is core to what Gao Feng does. We will, from time to time, share with you our latest thinking on business and management, especially as it relates to China and China’s role in the world.

Best Regards,

Bill Russo
Managing Director, Gao Feng Advisory Company
bill.russo@gaofengadv.com

Robert Zhang
Senior Associate, Gao Feng Advisory Company
robert.zhang@gaofengadv.com

Emily Wang
Senior Consultant, Gao Feng Advisory Company
emily.wang@gaofengadv.com

Bill Russo to Deliver Keynote Speech at Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Conference

Novi, Michigan, September 13-15, 2016

TBS&EVT 2016 overview.pdf (page 1 of 3) Preview, Today at 3.32.03 PM

Bill Russo will be a keynote speaker at the plenary session of the Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo (Day 1, Track 1) on September 13 in Novi, MI on the topic China Drives the Future of Personal Mobility.

 

China’s Path to Electrification vDraft6 Microsoft PowerPoint, Today at 3.38.27 PM

Topic Outline: 

  • China has emerged as the world’s largest automotive market since 2009 and remains the growth engine of the global automotive industry.
  • The world has entered a new era since 2008, with over half of the world population now living in cities, and this increasingly urbanized world challenges the established set of paradigms for personal and commercial transportation, especially in the densely populated urban centers in China.
  • The unique context of China’s urban transportation challenge, the high rate of adoption of mobile device connectivity, combined with the rapid and aggressive introduction of alternative mobility and ownership concepts will compress the time needed to commercialize new and innovative solutions and business models for personal urban  mobility
  • Shaped by several forces, China is already the largest EV market in the world and will continue to grow exponentially.  Several scenarios will be described that are shaping the market dynamicsgovernment policies, and competitive landscape.

Click here to view the conference flyer:  TBS&EVT 2016 overview

Click here to view the Day 1, Track 1 Agenda

Autoline: “Analyzing the Chinese Auto Market”

Autoline TV

Internet Premiere:  Thursday, 6/23 @ 4:00pm ET
Detroit Public TV air date:  Sunday, 6/26 @ 10:30am ET

Michael J. Dunne of Dunne Automotive, James Chao of IHS Automotive Asia-Pacific & Bill Russo from Gao Feng Advisory Company, join John McElroy on the floor of the Beijing Auto Show to discuss the, up to now, booming Chinese automotive market and where it goes from here.

Volvo: Remaking the marque

The Financial Times, June 19, 2016

Under Geely, the carmaker is back in profit and selling well in China. But is it big enough to compete with its rivals?

There is nothing exceptional about the shiny grey chassis on display in western Sweden. Its wheels, suspension and engine are all where you would expect to find them. But it stands out because of what it represents: tangible evidence of progress in one of the most daring industrial stories of recent years.

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Known as compact modular architecture, it is a shared platform destined to underpin the small vehicles made by both Volvo Cars, the Swedish premium manufacturer, and its owner Geely, the Chinese mass-market brand. “This is a bridge between the two companies,” says Mats Fagerhag, head of the joint venture that created the platform. “Everything is nice words before you start a common project and face hard facts.”

Click here to read the full article at FT.com

Bill Russo’s quote:

“The most important thing [Geely] has done is to help Volvo become a China-centric company,” says Bill Russo, a Shanghai-based consultant. “Geely has shifted Volvo from being a marginally global company situated in Scandinavia to being a global one centred in China.”

Bill Russo to Chair Panel Discussion on the Internet of Vehicles at TechCrunch

Shanghai, China, June 27, 2016

Venue:
West Bund Art Center
2555 Longteng Ave, Xuhu

Time:  11:10-11:40am

The Big Data Behind the Internet of Vehicles

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The traditional automotive industry, where technology innovation has primarily been focused on powertrain and safety systems, must now contend with new forms of mobility services that are transforming the manner in which we experience the product.   The particular conditions of urbanization, an ever-expanding middle class population, pollution, and congestion are uniquely challenging in China, which may create opportunities for innovative new mobility solutions for China.

The conventional hardware-centric, sales-driven, asset-heavy and ownership-based business model with sporadic customer interactions is now competing with a connected, on-demand, and often personalized mobility experiences.  This new form of “connected mobility” is driving new technologies in the world of navigation, analytics, driver safety, driver assistance and information virtualization.

Innovations such as these, originating from both traditional OEMs and new mobility solutions platforms, many of whom are Chinese, could pave the way to a an entirely new business model for China’s auto industry.

Panel Members:

Dr. Markus Seidel, Vice President, BMW Group Technology Office China

Ms. Celine Le Cotonnec, Head of Connected Services, Digital and Mobility for PSA Peugeot Citroen China

Mr. Bevin Jacob, Head of Business Development, APAC, Continental Intelligent Transportation Systems

Moderated by:

Mr. Bill Russo, Managing Director, Gao Feng Advisory Company

SAIC, Alibaba to Mark Chinese Foray Into Connected Cars

Bloomberg News, June 1, 2016

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SAIC Motor Corp. is putting finishing touches to a sport utility vehicle that features software developed with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., marking the first foray into the connected-car business by two of China’s biggest companies.

The model will be available from September and be the first of a new category of vehicles for the automaker that’s fully integrated to the internet, according to Gu Feng, SAIC’s financial controller. Among its functions, the Roewe RX5 SUV will be able to suggest alternative routes with road closures or traffic congestion, provide directions to the nearest gas station when fuel is running low, and deliver music to one’s tastes, the company said.

“Connected cars are the inevitable trend of the auto industry,” Gu said in a phone interview, declining to give a price for the new model. “We worked with Alibaba instead of Google or Apple because the latter looks at the car as a piece of hardware to install their software. If they are successful, in future they may just get a Ford or GM to produce cars for them, so we don’t see as much synergy in working with them.”

The connected car is the latest battleground for automakers and technology companies such as Google Inc. and Apple Inc. for digital revenue and control of the vehicle dashboard. Customer spending on such technologies will reach an estimated 40.3 billion euros ($45 billion) this year, with safety and autonomous driving functions the biggest categories, according to a study by Strategy&, a consulting group of PwC.

In choosing Alibaba’s Yun OS, SAIC is promoting a Chinese alternative to connectivity systems offered by Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. While Hyundai Motor Co. introduced Android Auto to its Sonata sedan last year and will roll it out to other models, Toyota Motor Corp. is involved in the open platform SmartDeviceLink championed by Ford Motor Co. and another initiative called MirrorLink.

“SAIC and Alibaba hope to grow the pie with services and even if they share it, it’s a bigger pie for both,” said Bill Russo, Shanghai-based managing director at Gao Feng Advisory Co. “The car is becoming the third space, after home and office, where people expect to be connected to the internet — and an increasing number of such collaborations are happening among traditional automakers and internet technology companies.”

Alibaba said it didn’t have additional comments on the collaboration with SAIC Motor.

Among its other plans, SAIC Motor is considering:

  • Listing some of the company’s units, such as its Chexiang.com platform, overseas with Hong Kong as the preferred market
  • Starting a second venture fund in Silicon Valley after investing the first $100 million on projects such as new-energy vehicles and electronic commerce
  • Building cars in India, possibly through acquiring existing plants
  • Selling left-hand drive cars to other European markets besides the U.K.
  • Building up its Hong Kong asset management unit over the next three to five years and issuing bonds

SAIC, which has manufacturing joint ventures with GM and Volkswagen AG, is seeking to boost deliveries of its own Roewe and MG brands and expand overseas even as it navigates the trend toward autonomous driving. The company’s sales have risen sevenfold in a decade to 5.9 million vehicles last year.

“The automobile is about to change fundamentally and it could run without an engine, gearbox, even a driver,” said Gu. “This is the most challenging moment for me and I feel the pressure every single day.”

Click here to read this story at bloomberg.com

China turns to second-hand cars to rev up consumption

The Financial Times, May 31, 2016

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As China revs up its shift to a consumption-led growth model, policymakers are trying to get more mileage out of a sputtering part of the economy: the used car market.

In most developed economies, sales of second-hand cars outnumber those of new vehicles by about two to one but the opposite is true in China, the world’s largest market for new vehicles.

“The majority of the vehicles in China are still owned by the first owner; secondary-owned vehicles are the minority,” says Bill Russo, a Shanghai-based consultant. “That is unlike any other country.”

To help stimulate the nascent market, Beijing recently introduced a policy that allows old cars from big cities to be resold in smaller ones, a move that will take full effect at the end of May. Previously, to protect local businesses, government regulations prevented cars being sold across provincial borders.

This will “open the pipeline”, according to Mr Russo. “Cars [in China] may be born in upper-tier regions but they tend to retire in lower-tier regions,” he said.

Though huge, China’s car market is in its infancy. Until 1984 it remained technically illegal for individuals to own a car and low personal wealth meant sales did not take off until the mid-2000s.

The country’s transition into a “new normal” of annual economic growth below 7 per cent following years of double-digit rises is potentially painful for carmakers accustomed to breakneck demand for new models. For used-car sales, however, newly thrifty consumers and a growing number of ageing vehicles are a promising combination.

China turns to second-hand cars to rev up consumption - FT.com Safari, Today at 11.57.42 AM

Rising supply, combined with government support and moves by manufacturers to encourage car-owners to upgrade sooner, promises to see the second-hand market grow at more than double the speed of that for new cars, according to Alex Klose, founder of JZWcars.com, a used car website.

The entrepreneur, Volvo’s former chief executive for China, set up his company in 2014 with the aim of becoming a trusted platform for a nascent market. “One thing holding people back from buying a used car is not knowing whether they can trust it,” he says.

Mr Klose is not alone in seeing the potential for second-hand cars. A flock of online platforms and technology start-ups have recently entered the sector.

“Everyone thinks that the space for growth in second-hand cars is very big — they think the sector is a very big cake,” says Li He, founder of Limiku.com, a used-car financing platform.

The government sees the used-car market as a way to boost consumption among those with lower incomes.

Mr Li, a tech industry veteran, believes online platforms are helping to improve the supply chain — a job he says big distributors are failing to do.

“The vast majority [of major distributors] have a second-hand car department but in reality they don’t have standards for the whole supply chain, including pricing and evaluation,” he says.

Big carmakers are now encouraging their dealerships to stop dragging their feet, however, as they seek a new source or profit for dealers.

Over-dependence on a single stream of revenue has sparked tensions between manufacturers and dealers in the past, when distributors asked for compensation for their losses during slow sales periods.

As dealerships look to evolve their business models, there is one set of people who are watching with trepidation: the original used-car salesmen.

Dong Wei has been selling used cars from his shoebox office at Beijing’s oldest and largest “old car market” since the 1990s.

“Before they [big dealerships] didn’t bother with second-hand cars, because the profits for new cars were so high,” he says. “Now they are starting to change their model.”

Mr Dong is nervous that disruption in the sector means the glory days for small-time salesmen are over.

“Before, the market would be full of people,” he says waving a hand at the unattended rows of shiny cars roasting in the heat. “These days, people prefer to go online.”

Click here to read this article at FT.com