ALU

Rental Economy

Online home leasing platform Ziroom in court for ‘formaldehyde’ apartments

Reading Time: 2 minutes Ziroom faces court cases in relation to alleged elevated levels of formaldehyde in its rental properties. Original Link

Some ofo users unable to apply for in-app deposit refunds

ofo says the claims are untrue but admits to graying out the refund button to retain users. Original Link

ofo partners with nine online lenders amid cash strain

The company reportedly inked the deals at 10% to 20% below the going price for acquiring new users. Original Link

ofo says its refund system still works despite increased processing times

The company’s ability to pay back users’ deposits has been questioned after rumors of acquisition and insolvency. Original Link

Briefing: Lockers could be the rental economy’s next big hit

The market for storage is relatively open, and students are just one segment of potential users. Original Link

Autonomous vehicles are coming but you won’t own one

Self-driving cars are a big deal in China. The country’s three tech giants—Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent (BAT)—are all working to develop the technology. In support of these companies and the many other startups operating in the autonomous driving space, the Chinese government is even working on a draft bill mandating that 50% of all vehicles sold by 2020 be autonomous or semi-autonomous.

Despite the government’s optimistic outlook, Didi CTO and co-founder Bob Zhang believes that mass adoption of self-driving vehicles is at least a decade away.

“I think there are two ways to commercialize autonomous driving technology,” Zhang told attendees at RISE in Hong Kong.  “First, enter into a rideshare network to provide services to passengers. Second, to sell self-driving cars to consumers. The second way will not happen on a very large scale in the next ten years.”

He believes that it is not a lack of interest in the vehicles that will limit adoption, but technological hindrances.

“The reason behind that is it still needs a long way to go before the technology is mature enough to drive safely in any weather conditions and any road condition,” he said. “During this time it does not make sense to have a self-driving car which can only drive on sunny days or good road situations.”

This doesn’t mean that Zhang believes the vehicles won’t be used. He explains that given ride-sharing companies know your origin and destination, they can decide whether the conditions are right to dispatch an autonomous vehicle.

“If we are confident we will dispatch this request to a self-driving car. If we are not we will dispatch to a human driver,” he said. “That, in my mind, is the mixed model between human drivers and self-driving cars.”

Zhang also claims that by the time autonomous cars are ready for mass adoption, consumers would have moved away from a vehicle ownership model. “The relationship between people and the vehicle will be redefined. Fewer people will choose to own a car, but just share one.”

Additionally, the car, along with all its sensors, will go from being a passive part of smart infrastructure management to a comprehensive array of sensors that will report road conditions to relieve congestion, something that Zhang said Didi is already working on today.

The core technology behind that is Didi has the ability to predict the queue length of the vehicles ahead of every crosswalk. For example, if a Didi vehicle stops 10 meters ahead of the crosswalk we can predict there will be three vehicles ahead of it,” he said. 

According to a report by Deloitte, China currently has over 500 smart city projects, with Internet of Things (IoT) platforms being an agent of change in the country’s urban spaces. These IoT devices collect data from around the country’s cities, helping to increase the flow of people and traffic, and attempting to improve the lives of a city’s residents. More data being collected from cars will not only result in better training data for future autonomous vehicles but also data to improve the general state of cities and their roadways.

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Bike rental graveyard found in Chengdu

Bike rental graveyard found in Chengdu · TechNode

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With D-Alliance, Didi plans to overturn car ownership and manufacturing worldwide

With D-Alliance, Didi plans to overturn car ownership and manufacturing worldwide · TechNode

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With D-Alliance, Didi plans to overturn car ownership and manufacturing worldwide

With D-Alliance, Didi plans to overturn car ownership and manufacturing worldwide · TechNode

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Airbnb China notifies hosts they may begin sharing their information with the government



Airbnb China notifies hosts they may begin sharing their information with the government · TechNode

























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Didi continues pivot into two wheeled mobility with beta test of electric bike rental

Chinese ride-hailing behemoth Didi is beta-testing its electric bike rental service in South China, a person with knowledge of the matter told TechNode. Didi is said to have won the initial support of at least three cities.

The firm is expected to develop its own bike rental brand, or potentially a separate app, with an access point from within Didi’s main app. Didi plans to launch the electric bike rental product in at least three cities within future months, the source added.

From four-wheels to two-wheels

Entering the electric bike sector might seem a brand new effort for the ride-hailing firm, but the business logic behind this move can be seen from its recent layouts. As a dominating player in China’s ride-hailing industry, Didi is on the path towards a greater ambition to address every transportation problem, as shown in the term it defining itself: “a world-leading transportation platform.” This positioning put it conveniently in expanding beyond ride-hailing to the sectors that address short distance trips.

Didi’s foray from four-wheel (long distance) to two-wheel (short distance) sector started years back. Through a series of investments starting in September 2016, Didi tied up with ofo and then embedded ofo’s service into its main app in April last year. Just one day ago, Didi announced it is building a bike-rental platform that integrates ofo, Bluegogo and potentially its own-branded shared bikes.

“Compared to bikes that are usually used for 1-3km trips, electric bikes have a mobility radius of 2-8 km, making it a more versatile vehicle for smaller cities and urban districts,” the source noted.

Incumbents galore

In the prime of China’s bike rental boom, electric bike rental also surged, but only as a complementary niche service for a small group who have serious mid-distance travel demands. But as bike rental market reaching saturation and startups scratched for new development directions, the electric bike rental became a convenient extension, where people expect to duplicate the bike rental success.

Bike rental giants like Mobike are also tapping longer trip businesses through car-hailing partnerships and the launch of in-house electric car rental platform. Local media reports that Mobike is also launching its e-bike project. Similarly, ofo and Hellobike are said to be mulling e-bike services.

Even for a former niche market, the tech giants would face a ton of startup rivals. The existing electric bike startups inlcude Xq Chuxing(享骑电单车), No.7 E-bike (7号电单车) , Relight, MeBike (小蜜单车), Mango Chuxing (芒果电单车) and Banma Bike (斑马电车).

Smart transportation firm Yongjiu Chuxing (永久出行) have launched a combined 100K e-bikes in Shanghai and Hangzhou since last May. “The war among bike rental firms is entering a vicious circle where competitors are vying for users by providing deposit-free service. In a case like this, companies need product differentiation that can bring revenues. Electric bike, thanks to its capabilities to cover longer-distance trips, can partially replace private cars and metros, and therefore easier to form payment habit among users,” Yongjiu’s CEO Zhou Wenming told local media.

Chances against tightening regulation

However, China tech giants’ path to achieve the grand vision could be bumpy. After a bitter-sweet relationship, Chinese government has shown cautiousness about supporting bike rental. The cautious atitude even affected electric bike rental. The Ministry of Transporation issued a policy in August, making it clear that the government will not support the development of electric bike services. Regional municipalities in Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin also released similar policies for security and environmental concerns.

But it would be too early to be bearish about the whole prospect of electric bike industry. Observers believe there is a chance of allowing major market players with solid operational record to explore these new businesses. Given the craze of tech giants and government’s “laissez-faire” attitude towards tech innovations, e-bike rental does have a chance to beat the odds.

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Shanda Group-backed Malaysian company NIDA aims to be Airbnb for economy hotels

Chinese conglomerate Shanda Group invested $5.6 million Series A in Malaysian startup NIDA on February 2017 in order to further tap into Southeast Asia regions, the next booming travel destination for Chinese tourists.

In fact, Southeast Asian countries remain top destinations for Chinese outbound tourists. Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are among the 10 most popular destinations for outbound travelers during the National holiday according to the China Tourism Academy.

But why did the global privately-owned investment group Shanda (盛大集团) invest in the 3-year-old Malaysian company?

“The primary reason is that Shanda Group wants to establish a similar model to HomeInns in SEA,” Kaneswaran Avili, CEO of NIDA told TechNode.

HomeInn Hotels Co. (首旅如家) and Ctrip jointly established an economic hotel chain HomeInn (如家酒店, means “Home-like hotel”) in 2002. HomeInn’s first branch opened in Beijing, and has since furthered its expansion to more than 2300 hotels in and outside of China over the decade, and was listed as one of the top 50 hotel chain brands in 2016 in the HOTELS magazine. It seems that Shanda, seeing the SEA as the next market, is betting on NIDA to do the same.

Southeast Asia’s economy hotel room network NIDA secures over 4,000 hotel partners in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, with additional plans to launch in Singapore. As Shanda’s investment group is headquartered in Singapore, this might help NIDA’s expansion in the neighboring country.

“NIDA caught our attention as they have developed a business model that enables the Company to quickly build a highly scalable platform with a strong brand by effectively addressing the needs of travelers and local hotels in the fragmented, less digitalized yet large and rapidly growing economy hotel sector in Southeast Asia,” said Robert Chiu, President of Shanda Group said in the press release when NIDA received investment.

We asked Shanda to further comment on this investment and future expansion in the Southeast Asian market, but the company only said they were “keeping a low profile” in the China market.

Why Shanda invested in NIDA

There are handful of competitors in the booming Southeast Asian travel market including local players like Indonesian hotel and flight booking site Traveloka, hotel reservation company Agoda, Expedia, booking.com, Ctrip and international players like Trip Advisor, Hotel Quickly, hotel price comparison site Trivago.

Established in September 2015, NIDA is comparably a new player in the sector, but has found the niche in the accommodation market: economy hotels.

The boutique hotel TechNode visited in September changed its name to Hotel NIDA (Image Credit: TechNode, NIDA)

We visited one of the hotels integrated to NIDA, called Javelin boutique hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. At a first glance, the hotel looked like just an ordinary hotel. At the time, Kaneswaran said soon this hotel will change its name to Hotel NIDA, and it actually did, as the picture above shows. Why would these boutique hotels give up their brands to join NIDA?

“They are not interesting brands. Brand does not add significance to these independently owned hotels,” he says. “Joining the network of a bigger brand brings significant benefit for them, in terms of technology, customer attraction and lower operation cost.”

NIDA automates the registration process so that hotels can gradually decrease the people in the front line. This makes the check-in and out process efficient so that customers can check in much earlier, and improves the financial account of hotels by reducing human labor. When a customer checks out, the company sends the alert the cleaning people so that the room can be sold much quickly to new customers.

“Normally customers have to check out by 12 p.m., and can check in after 2 p.m. We want to change that policy, because business people arrive at the airport with morning flight, arrive in the hotel early in the morning, and want to have early morning shower and go to meeting, but current hotel system doesn’t allow that,” Kaneswaran, a former director of AirAsia said. When AirAsia, Malaysia’s top-grossing budget airlines started with two domestic air craft in 2001, he implemented company’s various distribution channels in all markets. He sees the economic hotels going same for tourists.

“Travelers are spending more time and money outside, and spend little time and money in the hotel room. They spend lower than $40 per night,” Kaneswaran says.

NIDA is already tapping to Chinese customers. Thailand’s hotels that joined NIDA are integrated with Chinese provider of travel services Ctrip. “Chinese tourists’ demand for Thailand’s hotel rooms is much higher [than rest of SEA countries],” he explains.

Prior to Shanda’s investment, NIDA landed $4.2 million pre-Series A investment in April of 2016 from Japanese fund CyberAgent Ventures and Convergence Ventures.

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