The Bulgarian Company Spark for Shared Travel with Electric Cars Enters 2 New Markets in Europe
It seems unwise to start a car-sharing service with electric cars in the country with the oldest diesel cars in the EU. The model, however, seems to be successful, and the first car-sharing company in Bulgaria is proof of that. Spark launched just one year ago as a joint venture between the Bulgarian refueling infrastructure provider Eldrive and the Lithuanian Rideshare Electric Vehicle Sharing Company. Over the past 12 months, Spark has expanded its fleet in Sofia to more than 100 electric vehicles, attracted more than 1 million euros of investment and is now planning to expand in Romania. "Spark started operations in November 2017 with 25 cars and coverage of areas in Sofia much less than what we have today." We hoped our service would be welcomed, but what happened actually exceeded expectations - we had more than 2000 registrations in the first two days, which literally broke the system, "remembers Spark Executive Director Stefan Spasov. Today, the company that offers its services in Sofia and Vilnius has more than 20,000 users in the Bulgarian capital only, writes Trending Topics.
Spark is actually part of eMobility International, which also owns Eldrive. Years before the start of Spark, Eldrive invested in the construction of a network of chargers in Bulgaria. "Electric mobility and car-sharing businesses are growing exponentially worldwide, and we believe that this is the future and we want to be one of the first players in the regional market, of course, such an initiative is a long-term investment of an innovative nature and the creation of a solid business takes time and patience, "Spasov explains. The company has revenues of 320,000 euros and a loss of 200,000 euros in 2017. According to Spasov in Bulgaria there are 600 electric cars, but most of them (80-90%), following the global trends, are charged at home.
However, the Eldrive team decided to lead the process of building and using such infrastructure and installed over 120 chargers in Bulgaria, some 60 of which are in Sofia. The company enables prospective customers to monitor or reserve charging stations via a mobile application. "If we want people to accept electrical mobility, we need to provide them with the security and comfort of using such services, which is directly related to the infrastructure." It is important to be able to monitor where the charging stations are, whether they are free, what the conditions are, that you can plan your trip, "Spasov says. The next logical step for eMobility is to begin the study of the electric vehicle market. The first attempt in this direction is to lease electric cars to other leasing companies - a business line that is still being developed by the company. However, the breakthrough comes through Spark and the platform and customer service.
Bulgaria is often considered a business ecosystem because of the prevailing opinion that customers or early users of a service are hard to find here. The Spark case is not like that. The younger people are quick to accept the service. "The typical user is between 25-40 years old and has a modern urban lifestyle." Many of the thousands of clients we have are professionally engaged in the IT sector, and that's not surprising - they are early adopters of a service like Spark, "Spasov explains. One of the surprises for the team is the share of women consumers in Sofia - almost 50%, which is not typical of the car-sharing sector. "I think at this stage we can say that Spark has become an important part of Sofia's transport mix in Sofia," Spasov told Trending Topics. According to him, many customers use the service as an alternative to having a private car. The user usually spends about 20 minutes, traveling between 8 and 12 km, driving Spark. Like other popular car-sharing services, Spark also charges per minute, but there are also packets for a day and a weekend.
In 2019 the company will increase its fleet in the Bulgarian capital to 400 cars. After having established itself to some extent in Sofia and Vilnius, Spark is now planning expansion. "We will release the service in at least two other cities in the region in 2019, starting with the Romanian capital Bucharest early next year," Spasov told Trending Topics. The company's strategy is to cover large cities with a population of at least 1.5 million people. No expansion is planned in smaller cities, at least for the next 3-4 years. Although Spasov's first achievements are in the markets of Southeast Europe and the Baltic region, Western Europe is also part of the road map. Being a massive and inexpensive service is a competitive advantage for the company. "Our competitive advantage is the aggressive approach we take in setting the price levels. We develop everything with us and this allows us to optimize and work with low margins We are targeting the mass market and I would say our prices are about 50% than those of many of the leading companies in this sector in the EU, "Spasov explains.
The price per minute is 0.15 euro (0.29 leva) in Bulgaria and 0.17 euro in Lithuania. It really looks significantly lower, as established service providers in Europe like Car2go and DriveNow offer prices of 0.25 euros. The manager promises Spark to maintain low service prices on Western European markets as well. "There is room for everyone, or at least for a few players with large fleets in a city, and as demand grows with supply, I am convinced that the market will continue to grow," he says. Although the company's first financial statements are not yet public, according to the management it grows monthly. Investors in Spark also look optimistic. "I think the company has the potential to be a leading regional player and even be acquired by a transport company or car maker," predicts Pavel Ezekiev, managing partner of NEVEQ, which holds about one-third of eMobility.
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