The Business of Mobility is a series of articles penned by business leaders in sustainable mobility. 

Interview with Audrey Goudin, general manager at Marcel. 

The French ride-hailing company Marcel was launched in 2014. It offers a superior service for customers in Île-de-France, Lyon and Nice. Marcel differentiates itself from the bigger ride-hailing services by focusing on sustainability. It is the only 100% French ride-hailing platform that combines quality of service with a commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Audrey Goudin joined Marcel as financial director in 2019, before being appointed GM at the beginning of 2021.

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Autonomy: Why would a customer prefer to use the Marcel platform?

Audrey: Our company is 100% French. We employ our teams and pay our taxes in France. We are developing a viable and French VTC [véhicule de tourisme avec chauffeur] alternative, contributing to offset emissions and integrating CSR considerations into all our strategic decisions while commiting to improve everyone’s daily lives.

We offer our customers a quality and local service with selected partner drivers and services adapted to their needs. The rides are at a fair price, optimised and known in advance.

We co-build our platform with the help of our partner drivers. We’re particularly proud of the fact that we offer them one of the lowest commissions on the market and fair prices to allow them better profitability. Thanks to the listening and respect that we bring them, they are able to develop their activity serenely.

Autonomy: But not cheaper?

Audrey: In the digital platform space companies want to establish dominance and incumbency; it’s the winner-takes-all problem. So they temporarily lower prices and offer promos in order to drive gross sales, without much heed to profit margins. 

Our approach is different. We prefer to encourage soft mobility when the trips allow it and we would rather meet the need to travel instead of creating the demand. We want to create a sustainable offer. That means understanding the costs and adding a fair profit margin that respects the driver and offers them a profitable price, much like how fair trade operates. 

Autonomy: What is that margin?

Audrey: Our commission rate is 20%, including tax, and it should be noted that drivers can recover losses from VAT since they’re operating within a French company. Our strategy is to build sustainable partnerships with drivers. Ultimately, it is the drivers who guarantee the quality of our service and ensure customers are satisfied. I am proud to say that thus far our user ratings are 97% positive. 

Autonomy: In a previous interview you used the term “a race for value not volume”…

Audrey: That’s right. But remember there are two meanings to the word “value.” There is the value we offer both to customers, drivers, and then there is the question of our platform’s values, i.e. our commitment to CSR (corporate social responsibility). 

Autonomy: You’re talking about emissions and climate change?

Audrey: Yes, that’s one of the big value issues. We have from the beginning (2014) offset our carbon emissions. And from 2019, we have offset through our partnership with the GoodPlanet Foundation, which is dedicated not only to ecology but also to humanism. One in two of our drivers have EVs or hybrids, and we have programmes such as partnerships with manufacturers, preferential rates on vehicles, recharging offers to assist the other half to transition to EVs. Studies show that mobility constitutes as much as 27% of the carbon footprint of a French person. There’s an exciting opportunity to get that down to zero. And we all have a role to play in that.

Autonomy: In terms of customers, it seems that you are positioning yourselves less as a consumer brand and more as a B2B business.

Audrey: Both markets are important to us. We have half-a-million individual users and 1,300 corporate clients. Businesses like our service because we ensure a seamless business trip for their employees. We help them by accompanying them in their daily business travel and for events, they are accompanied on a daily basis by a dedicated team.

Our prices are predictable and transparent and we have special systems for syncing with employee expense reports. We also give assurance on ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues, which is something large organisations care about.

Autonomy: Where do you see the growth coming from?

Audrey: There are plenty of opportunities to differentiate ourselves as a proudly French chauffeur-driven car-booking platform. We are able to innovate beyond the ride-hailing service and help companies optimise their fleet. We partner with hotels and other third parties to develop bespoke services that help companies reduce their mobility costs and emissions.

Autonomy: You’ve also partnered with Shell and with Bump.

Audrey: Indeed, we forge strategic partnerships with actors who work towards responsible mobility. In this case, we are working with Shell for the development of their Paris electric mobility hub and we partnered with them on their Shell Scenarios Sketch, envisaging pathways to meet Paris’s carbon-neutrality commitment. This enabled us to provide preferential rates for our partner drivers. In early 2022 we partnered with Bump, who offer an electric charging service for our Parisian and Lyon drivers, and they give us preferential rates.

Autonomy: You joined Marcel in 2019 as the financial director, is it frustrating for you to have to think about all sorts of things other than actual profit?

Audrey: Yes, I am a numbers person. They made me GM in 2021, partly because of my financial background. Our backers (BYmyCAR Group) have asked us to prioritise the profitability of the operation, which we are very close to achieving. 

Autonomy: How does Marcel handle current events which may disrupt or boost your projects going forward?

Audrey: We adapt to the situation while respecting our values.

The Covid health crisis, the rise in the price of oil, and even environmental issues have impacted today’s mobility and have pushed us to innovate and be reactive. Furthermore, it also confirmed that we cannot put off ethical issues in the pursuit of maximum profit for short-term gains.

Thus, as soon as the price of fuel increased, we adjusted our prices so that our partner drivers can maintain their profits and thus ensure a quality service for our customers. This helps maintain our values of trust and loyalty with both our customers and our partner drivers.

In addition, with all the actions we are taking to limit the impact on the environment, we stopped accepting diesel vehicles on our platform from the beginning of January 2022.