INTERNATIONAL PARKING & MOBILITY INSTITUTE JANUARY 2020
Moving Up to Parking A Tesla Executive Moves to the Parking Industry
Former Tesla, Coca-Cola executive talks about his jump to the parking and mobility industry and what he sees ahead.
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ESLA IS ALMOST ALWAYS NEAR THE TOP OF LISTS OF INNOVATIVE, disruptive companies. How could it not be? Known for its long-range, electric vehicles and increasing strides on autonomy, the company is an undisputed leader in the
innovative-mobility space. So when Neil Golson, head of Tesla’s energy marketing sales and sales operations, North America, announced plans to join FlashParking, which is working to advance parking garages into full-fledged mobility hubs, it raised a few eyebrows—why would you leave Tesla to work in parking? Golson says there are simple answers to that question, and he sat down with Parking & Mobility to talk about it. Some highlights:
friends who had worked for Tesla and Coke about how the scooter companies, and I hate to phrase it this way, but how they were making the problem worse. I started talking to them about the hypothesis that parking assets could be a solution to those problems and their eyes lit up. We completely agreed that this is how it all could work; we could all link together through these networks for folks to solve the same problems. I see it through a consumer marketing What attracted you to work in lens—shaping consumer behavior I’m working to change the parking industry? and building a system that’s easily consumer behavior and I think what attracted me to this adaptable and gives them a single build an infrastructure was first meeting FlashParking’s solution that solves their day and chairman, Dan Sharplin. As we minimizes congestion. that will bring everything were being introduced and getting It’s largely about the infratogether, which is what to know each other and he started structure. A lot of my focus at TesI’ve always done. describing the problems the comla was how people charge their vepany is solving, I felt like I kind of hicles. You build a super charging get parking. It’s not something on the surface that was network and when people are charging at home, you run that exciting to me, but as we got into the challenges off of solar so we’re not building problems. A mobility and these ideas that cities are getting more and more hub offers a space and a very similar way to think about congested as mobility types continue to change not just that challenge. It’s the experience of building a complex from combustion to electric, which I was familiar with, infrastructure and a new platform in the same way that but also transportation network companies like Uber I did for Tesla, and the consumer behavior and consumand Lyft and scooter companies and last-mile logistics er adoption the same way I did for Coca-Cola. and these autonomous rovers and other things coming to the mobility space, the traditional parking garage Do you see this as a career change? that is perfectly located in the middle of the urban core It’s a job change but I don’t feel like it was a career has the opportunity to include all of that for consumchange. I don’t feel like I’m in the parking business ers. They can provide congestion relief and solve comeven in this role. Parking is part of the mobility infraplexities coming to people who are trying to absorb all structure and my role is tasked to build more than that. the services and manage their day and their commutes. I’m working to change consumer behavior and build I could see how those parking assets could be mobility an infrastructure that will bring everything together, hub solutions for all those things. That’s really what which is what I’ve always done. I was doing brand marstarted to attract me. keting for Coke at a time when social media and the Think about all of the opportunities—zoom out Internet were coming of age. Problem-solving for me and think about that parking app that goes beyond just then was how to build a communications infrastrucparking. That gets really exciting. I started talking with ture and harness natural trends in consumer behavior PARKING-MOBILITY.ORG / JANUARY 2020 / PARKING & MOBILITY 21
Mobility hubs, in my mind, are keys to the smart city.
to insert the brand and our product into those decisions and into their moments. At Coke, I was following consumer trends and my role was labeled as marketing, but I spent so much time figuring out the supply chain to connect 37 countries and drive adoption and get pricing right. That’s what I define as marketing—making sure we as a brand and the products are meeting consumers and managing the trends that are around them in their own space and with their own adoption of technology. If you do that successfully, consumers will adapt your technology into their lifestyle. At Tesla, it was about how our technology adapted to their lives. Tesla was first seen as an in-town car but people never thought of that car as something to use to drive from Austin to Houston. That was my challenge: How do we guide this infrastructure and teach people to use it until they’re comfortable that the Tesla electric vehicle can be the summer road-trip car? That was the transition I led and was tasked with. How do we get ahead of consumer trends and build that infrastructure? Parking is certainly a space I need to learn and it’s fascinating. I’ve been here 60 days and my email inbox is full. People are saying they have not only parking
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customers but mobility companies coming to them, and they’re coming to me saying they know EVs are happening but how do they do it? How many do they need? What does this look like? And how does this all get organized in a way that it’s integrated into their operation and it’s not just an add-on? That’s the other thing that’s interesting: in the conversations I’m having they’re not looking to add charging because they want it as part of a problem solution. They believe it’s critical to parking in the future. I feel like I joined a mobility technology company. That’s an exciting thing. The mobility hub of the future is starting today. There are so many integrations and thoughts about mobility hubs, and it all starts with the parking validation, which is very established in the industry. If you zoom out and think about what a parking validation is, you start to question how it can be connected to a retail point of sale system so that how much you spend at your target business affects how much of a discount you get on parking while you’re there. Think about how people navigate to go into a Brooklyn Nets game. There will be a mobility structure that navigates them to the best parking depending how they define that term. The mobility hub
has to adapt to what a consumer is looking for to offer When you get to a world of more EVs on the road a customize solution for different needs, so you adverthan combustion engines, and certainly when those tise it not just based on price but on the amenities it’s are autonomous vehicles, they’ll need a place to go offering. If a customer says he doesn’t want to spend and they’re not all going to drive out of the city and go $50 on parking to go to a Nets game, the system says, home. An autonomous ride-share wants to position “Great, we recommend you park in this garage that has itself as close as possible to where the next ride is going scooters that can be pre-reserved and can be checked to happen and an urban garage gives them a place to do in or docked at the venue.” So your mobility hub offers that and plug in and charge, make sure the tire pressure your last-mile transportation and you park farther is adjusted the right way, make sure it’s clean—all the out but spend less money because you’re willing to do things human drivers do today. Think about where that. Then you have the consumer who doesn’t mind they’re going to get those things done. There is a cost paying more but needs to charge his car, or found a to all those cars stopping and staging on the street. And garage that has charging but it’s full. So you have a sys- those are all going to shift into parking assets tem that can get you into another garage and get you There’s a bit of an artificial bubble in the lack of use exactly what you need within an of parking assets you hear about ecosystem of amenities. today because all of these things A lot of this is about A lot of this is about underare underpriced. Cities are wakunderstanding what standing what amenities a coning up. Scooters are being limited sumer needs and what amenities and things are coming together so amenities a consumer a city needs. You don’t need needs and what amenities parking assets will be high capacscooters in Detroit in February ity with vehicles we’re not seeing a city needs. You don’t but you certainly want them all today. Cars today have the capacity need scooters in Detroit in year in San Diego. The same is to refuel and just drive around at no true for EV adoption. For a moFebruary but you certainly incremental cost. That’s going to bility hub in California, having end very quickly. want them all year in charging is a requirement. In You may not be in your vehicle San Diego. Birmingham, Ala., you probably when it goes into and out of the need to start thinking about it garage, but you’re certainly paying but you don’t need to incorporate it today. You’re maxattention to what’s happening while it’s sitting there. imizing your value with your amenities and your price You’re teeing up services like charging, car washing, and and an infrastructure that offers what your market is the human is still designing the day. There’s also a hulooking for. man on the other end who is running the mobility hub. I Mobility hubs, in my mind, are keys to the smart don’t see how that’s a series of robots. You’ve got the Amcity. You have to think about offering a variety of ameazon truck showing up to load up packages into drones nities but also being connected to a larger smart city to and rovers, and someone needs to make sure that works. get congestion off the road. The parking operator is crucial to the future and we’re seeing it today. He or she make sure it all happens in the There’s a lot of talk about adaptive reuse and right way and tracks it all and brings a level of consumer whether you build a parking garage now that can be insight that determines how we maximize what conchanged into something else, or you build a garage sumers are looking for and what we need to invest in. that will be torn down and replaced with something When your car, whether you’re in it or not, gets to else. Do you have a sense of that yet? work that day, an entire system will be sensing to turn I strongly believe that in none of our lifetimes are we on the air conditioning in your office, tell the coffee going to see less of a need for parking. It’s an intervendor downstairs to have your order ready when you esting moment because Uber and Lyft have unpriced walk in the door. All of that starts in the parking garage. their cost to society. They are able to essentially use It remains your first and last touchpoint. Parking opthe street as a parking lot at no cost, and they’re doing erators need to understand how all that works for all it at least 40 percent of the time when they don’t have the humans involved. Their role might look different passengers or they’re on their way to get passengers. but all those moving pieces can’t be automated as this These are existing outside of the parking environment continues to evolve. Parking professionals have to be and regulations allow them to get on the road and on the front side of all these trends making sure they all keep circling. work and listening to people. ◆ PARKING-MOBILITY.ORG / JANUARY 2020 / PARKING & MOBILITY 23
A former Tesla and Coca-Cola executive talks about his jump to the parking and mobility industry and what he sees ahead.