The electric car rental service EkoRent provides its customers with car use without either CO2 emissions or the hassle of ownership. The founder of the company got fascinated by smart cities, urban planning, future mobility, and renewable energy. His company now beautifully combines business interests with ecological ideology.
Research indicates that cars are driven an average of 42 km a day and stand unused for 95% of the time in Finland. Not quite smart, indeed. This fact inspired Juha Suojanen, CEO and Founder of EkoRent, to launch a modern, ecological rental service. It was developed as part of the Witty City programme run by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation.
Juha Suojanen, what kinds of solutions do you offer for future smart mobility?
“We offer two solutions: an hourly-based electric car rental service, and a shared electric vehicles service – the latter still being in its early stage. We have service points in Espoo, Helsinki, and Vantaa. To register with the rental service online, you need a driving licence, and a bank or credit card. The application shows you the closest available car, and reservations can be made and the doors opened by smartphone or text message.
What practical problems does your smart mobility solution solve, and whose daily life does it facilitate?
“We make life smoother for city dwellers who find car ownership too burdensome and expensive. Most of our customers are around 25–45 years old, but youngsters as well as senior citizens have found us, too. Another user group are companies, especially startups, whose representatives need to travel around a lot but do not want to waste money on a car. The key is that service stations must be close to people – at traffic hubs and near commuting routes.”
How far are you now with the development of your smart mobility solution?
“The car rental service is up and running. Right now, we are negotiating with construction companies and urban planning officers to develop further the shared electric vehicles service. In this concept, an electric car has a designated parking spot and is used by residents of a housing co-operative, or by employees of a company. Prospects are promising, and in about half a year we should have the first customer cases in operation.
Many think that shared electric vehicles are urban future, but the technology is already mature. It is the mentality that needs to change more than anything else. I would like to see Finnish cities taking shared electric vehicles on their agenda and planning the smart cities in a more visionary and aggressive manner, instead of only following what others do outside Finland. In some districts, such as Kalasatama in Helsinki, the regulators are already implementing far-sighted plans on car parks. In one block, 20% less parking spots are needed if just 4% of the total parking space is allocated to shared vehicles. This means huge savings: building a single underground parking spot can easily cost over 50 000 euros!”
What kinds of challenges and goals do you have regarding internationalisation?
“We are just applying for funding to study a potential market outside of Finland. If all goes fine, we target to have international projects running in 2016. Electric car rental service suits perfectly megacities with ever growing populations and more and more cars. It can help megacities to combat pollution and traffic jams.”
Is Finland a good country for developing smart mobility solutions? Why?
”Finland is an awesome country for showcases – to prove how things work. However, I need to say that the big market for smart electric cars lies in more densely populated parts of the world. We currently have only 667 electric cars in Finland. Most Finns have not even noticed that there are more electric vehicle charging stations than traditional gas stations inside the farthest ring road of their capital area.”
Technology already offers lots of possibilities but the challenge often lies in getting people to use the new solutions. How do you think we could encourage people to use smart mobility solutions?
”People tend to have prejudices which we first have to win. We need to show that electric cars can handle winter weathers, and that they can be charged easily. Social media channels also offer ways to encourage people to use new mobility solutions. To give an example, there are groups of Tesla users on Facebook.”
Industry: Smart mobility services
Headquarters: Helsinki, Finland
Number of employees: 2