7 Challenger Brands Driving Transportation Innovation


Well it’s about time. After dreaming of flying cars for decades—which is likely never going to happen—we are finally starting to see some disruption in our daily commutes. From infrastructural changes to car sharing to straddling buses, challenger brands are taking a stand against transportation methods that have remained largely unchanged since Henry Ford came rattling out of his garage. Below are seven companies brave enough to challenge conventional transit to a game of chicken.

1.    Car2Go

While Austin may have sent Uber and Lyft on an indefinite road trip, we were the first US city to embrace a German transportation challenger named Car2Go. Since May of 2010, Car2Go has challenged the notion of car ownership by giving vehicle-less Austinites a much-needed taxi alternative. Rather than call a cab and wait 30 minutes to an hour for their arrival, only to be taken to your final destination via the longest and most expensive route possible (tip not included), Car2Go members simply reserve one of the 300+ Smart Cars strewn across the city through the Car2Go smartphone app and drive themselves from A to B for $0.41/minute. The company currently operates in 29 cities around the globe and was recently featured in a national IBM Cloud commercial. Nothing says challenger like cloud integration.

Challenger Knowledge Bomb: Dated business models (eg, car ownership) were made to be broken. 

2.             BCycle

One of Austin’s other popular ride-sharing options loved by locals and tourists is BCycle, a convenient alternative to cars and a cogent reminder that you can forget how to ride a bike. BCycle is like the Car2Go of the pedicab world. Rather than pay a sweaty cyclist to pedal you around town in a rickshaw cart, you can rent a BCycle and explore the city at your own leisure. When you’re done, you just open the BCycle app and find a nearby station to return the bike. In addition to the pedicab and taxi industry, BCycle challenges our urge to be lazy. Some would argue that’s the hardest battle of all.

Challenger Knowledge Bomb: Accessibility is the key to mass adoption.

3.             Airwheel

If just reading about bicycling made your calves cramp, Airwheel is here to whisk you off your weary feet on everything from electric unicycles to folding e-bikes that can fold to fit into the back of a Car2Go. They also offer a motorized skateboard that would make Marty McFly trade in his DeLorean. All Airwheel products run on the Airwheel app, which acts as the keys to your chosen chariot. The app also allows you to monitor battery life and regulates the vehicle’s speed, in case 20ish mph is too fast for you. Bike, skateboard, and walking shoe manufacturers, consider yourselves challenged.

Challenger Knowledge Bomb: Don’t reinvent the wheel, just make it better.

4.             Rise

“Dear Weary Traveler,” begins the personal letter on Rise’s about page, penned by CEO Nick Kennedy. After describing the horrors of airports, Kennedy offers a solution to the “soul-crushing experience that has become commercial air travel,” affordable private airplanes. While “affordable” is a stretch for the majority of the population, Rise is making private planes more accessible to frequent flyers through a membership-based business model. It’s the perfect compliment to your annual country club dues.

Challenger Knowledge Bomb: A lot of people are willing to pay for a taste of the 1%.  

5.             Vonlane

For (Texas) businesses executives with a crippling fear of flying, there’s a company called Vonlane that dubs itself the “private jet on wheels.” Volane luxury buses contain 16 leather chairs (versus the 56 polyester-lined seats you’d typically find on a similarly sized bus), a conference room, TV monitors, complimentary snacks, an onboard attendant, noise-cancelling headphones, a coat check and free wifi. It’s not as fast as a private jet, but it’s far less expensive and prevents you from having to drive yourself, or worse, fly commercial.

Challenger Knowledge Bomb: It’s easier to upgrade a basic service than the other way around.  

6.             Megabus

On the opposite end of the income spectrum, Megabus is making inner-state transit more accessible to the masses with their double decker buses and completely electronic booking system. These vehicles challenge both the limited seating and the social stigma of current services like Greyhound by appealing to cash-strapped millennials through low fares, free wifi, and web-based ticketing. Or maybe their friendly mascot did the trick.

Challenger Knowledge Bomb: If you digitize it, Millennials will come.

7.             Straddling Bus

Last, and least likely to become a reality in the near future, is a public transit concept out of Beijing called the straddling bus. The idea premiered at the 19th Annual International High Tech Expo earlier this year, and the news spread faster than a Taylor Swift dating rumor. Media outlets all over the world played the computer-generated footage of this serpentine vehicle gliding over traffic jams with the ease of an Olympic figure skater. If you haven’t seen it yet, play the video below and pray that this pipe dream becomes a reality.

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