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Goldbell eyes mobility tech for growth

Some areas the company is exploring relate to the sharing economy, autonomous technologies, connectivity and electric vehicles.

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Even as Goldbell Group continues to push forward in its future mobility plans, Mr Chua says that its core leasing and distribution business is not left behind amid technological changes.

VEHICLE leasing giant Goldbell Group is making inroads into the future of mobility with the launch of cutting-edge autonomous products, a brand new multi-storey facility for heavy vehicles using the latest automation technology that will house a dynamic living lab, and an accelerator for mobility-related startups in the pipeline.

Behind the transformation of the 40-year-old family business is its third-generation leader CEO Arthur Chua, who is driving Goldbell's vision to be at the forefront of innovation in the mobility space.

Goldbell is currently a market leader in the traditional vehicle leasing and distribution business with a fleet of over 8,500 vehicles, but Mr Chua says that the group must look beyond what has worked for the last four decades to stay ahead.

Some of the latest future mobility trends that the group has looked at and followed up on relate to the sharing economy, autonomous technologies, connectivity and electric vehicles.

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Swat, a shared mobility technology company that is part of Goldbell, is now in three countries, namely Singapore, Vietnam and Australia, with more in the works.

Started in 2015, Swat was part of Singapore's on-demand bus trial services, having developed its own efficient sharing pooling algorithms and its own intellectual property.

Its rapid growth can be seen in its burgeoning headcount, which will jump from 20 last year to about 72 by the end of 2019.

The company intends to expand into China, Japan and the Middle East next, with plans to become profitable in about two years, says Mr Chua.

Goldbell is also going big in the area of autonomous technologies, with the upcoming launch of autonomous forklifts - its first such product - through its new business Xiaoxin.

Founded late last year, Xiaoxin is focused on creating autonomous warehouse solutions to solve problems in the logistics industry, of which labour scarcity is the top concern, he says.

"Even in countries which are not developed, there's a labour scarcity issue because people don't want to perform warehouse jobs as they get more educated," he explains.

He cites a case where truck drivers were offered up to S$5,000 a month, but still got no takers.

Goldbell's new autonomous forklifts aim to fill the gap by reducing the need for drivers - only one person is required to monitor and manage several forklifts at a time with the autonomous machines.

Mr Chua says the product differs from others in the industry in terms of costs and product specifications.

Unlike other autonomous forklifts, the company's specially-designed ones come with a driver's seat which still allows the forklifts to be driven manually if needed. In addition, they are priced at least 30 per cent cheaper than existing models in the market.

As the logistics industry continues to consolidate, Mr Chua believes that only a few large players will survive. These companies typically own warehouses which will eventually require such autonomous forklifts due to increasing manpower constraints, he says.

This is also part of his plan to create products that are scalable internationally.

He explains: "If you want to expand your traditional business across geography, it's hard to fight against the incumbents.

"But if you have a strong core intellectual property or product that is unique, then you can easily enter regional markets."

He predicts that in less than 10 years, autonomous forklifts will replace traditional ones as the speed of change in the industry continues to accelerate.

Another new Goldbell initiative is an accelerator targeting very early-stage startups in the mobility space to be launched by this year.

Investing in startups is nothing new to the company, which has its own corporate venture capital fund with stakes in about 17 startups to date.

The upcoming accelerator Goldbell is planning is in conjunction with partners spanning the full spectrum in the mobility industry, consisting of component providers, manufacturers, transport companies, tech firms, as well as vehicle manufacturers.

Mr Chua shares that his company will be pumping millions into the accelerator and the partners involved will guide and grow startups to commercialisation.

He describes it as a "dynamic living lab" concept, where startups get access to resources, namely its vehicles, workshop facilities and even customers for them to test their concepts and technologies.

This living lab is housed in Goldbell's new space at Tuas 18, believed to be the world's largest multi-storey facility for heavy vehicles. The S$35 million facility houses all of Goldbell's capabilities (except for financial services) under one roof for the convenience of its customers, enabling them to save time.

The facility itself is highly automated, with technologies such as an autonomous parts transporter and a barcode scanning system to increase efficiency in retrieving parts and inventory accuracy.

Even as the company continues to push forward in its future mobility plans, Mr Chua says that its core leasing and distribution business is not left behind.

He explains: "I highly believe that any company's success is a very disciplined balance based on allocating resources to both exploitation and exploration."

Exploitation refers to leveraging its core business to grow organically through economies of scale and business efficiency. Exploration means trying to create new businesses.

"Exploration helps to make sure we stay relevant over the next 40 years, but a lot of our resources and time are also on the exploitation part," he says. "We don't ride the hype of technology changes just for the sake of it."