1616: Rudi Thun

Rudi Thun is the COO of Roadster. He subscribed to FoT in October 2014.

1) What change do you want to see in the world of mobility by the end of 2016?

The future of mobility is as exciting and full of promise as it has ever been. Each year vehicles roll off the assembly line with more technology and life improving features than the previous year. The pace of this change is certainly going to increase, even faster than we can imagine.

One unfortunate manifestation of this hyper-innovation is the paralyzing feeling prospective buyers experience when trying to decide what and when to purchase. This has certainly been an issue with $300 smartphone purchases for the past 5 years, but when faced with spending an average of $33K on a new car, consumers’ stress levels elevate even higher. Layer on the painful processes of negotiating the price of your car, getting a good finance rate, and selling your old car and well, the excitement of buying a beautifully designed, state-of-the-art product is overshadowed by the anxiety of the transaction.

Consumer reticence to invest in new, mysteriously complex vehicle technologies, in conjunction with the procrastination of a nasty transaction process, is a serious industry problem. The demand-limiting effect stunts the growth of future environment saving and safety improving technologies. Consumers need a lot of trusted help and frankly, they don’t have many options today.

I have spent the better part of the past 15 years working to make the research and transaction experience a better one for vehicle shoppers. It has been my obsession while in leadership positions at AOL Autos, Autoblog, CarWoo!, eBay Motors, and now as COO of Roadster. Consumers should be as excited about buying a new car as they are about getting their next generation iPhone and the transaction process should be just as easy. To that end, I won’t rest until consumers have a solution that makes car buying a joy and a stress-free experience.

Key to this outcome is the disaggregation of the product showcase experience from the product purchase experience. Manufacturers and dealerships have done a disservice to consumers by blending both experiences together so tightly at the dealership. The car salesman has been given the unfairly difficult task of simultaneously performing the role of highly knowledgeable and patient product specialist while also being a hungry salesperson with back-breaking quotas and commission goals. As many would attest, it is not a good formula for producing high customer satisfaction scores.

With Tesla’s direct-to-consumer model, Elon Musk has demonstrated one way to disaggregate the two experiences. Fortunately, it is not the only way. Today, through strong relationships with franchise dealerships across the State of California, Roadster provides a similar option to consumers for all non-Telsa brands. We don’t see the direct-to-consumer model disrupting the franchise model any time soon, but we do see a future world where the role of the franchise dealership will look different from what it is today. Consumers will get the experience they want: a fast, consistent, and stress-free buying process not unlike the one they enjoy with other online retail experiences. While a customer will likely test drive vehicles at one or more dealerships, all other aspects of the purchase process, including financing, leasing, warranty agreements, insurance, and trade-ins, will occur online. Your new car will be delivered to your house and your trade-in will be picked up at the same time.

2) If you had to drop everything right now and build something that had the greatest impact on mobility, what would it be?

Ever since my senior year at Cornell University in 1993, when I helped build a hybrid electric vehicle from the ground up with 40 of my classmates, I have been fascinated by the inevitable migration from combustion engines to electric motors. It has taken longer than I thought it would, but thankfully the pace of innovation is starting to match the urgency of our situation.

As the father of two children that will hopefully be on this planet near the turn of the next century, I care deeply about climate change and the role that the auto industry plays. With the increasing urbanization of the United States and much of the developing world, supporting environmentally friendly mobility solutions is, in my opinion, absolutely critical to the future health of our children, the global economy, and global peace.

The limiting factor to getting us closer to an all-electric world is still, clearly, battery technology. If I were to drop everything, I’d like to work on the development and manufacturing of cutting edge battery solutions, including hydrogen fuel cells. I have a lot to learn in that world, but would find it highly satisfying to contribute to something so important for the future of man.

And if I didn’t do that, I’d like to contribute in some way to further space exploration. Mobility in space!

Rudi Thun Bio
Rudi Thun is COO of Roadster, the online service that transforms the way people shop for new cars. A true industry veteran, Thun has been an executive leader in online automotive for more than 15 years. Most recently, Thun was Head of Vehicles for eBay Motors, where he set strategy and managed the day-to-day operations of eBay’s vehicle marketplace.
At Roadster, Thun is charged with leading business development efforts, establishing partnerships that enhance and expand Roadster’s industry footprint. Further, Thun leads Roadster’s marketing and content strategy.

1616 is a compendium of ideas from 16 FoT subscribers about our near-term mobility future. You can read all 16 entries here; you can sign up for FoT here.