Teslas For All:
A Q&A with Green Commuter
A chat with founder Gustavo Occhiuzzo on driving and life
Instead of retiring at age 40, Gustavo Occhiuzzo decided to try something new.
Though he had founded many companies over a 20 year period of time and made money doing so, something was missing.
There was still an itch left to scratch.
Green Commuter is a ridesharing service that uses only Teslas. It’s a company Occhiuzzo founded in 2014, hoping that it stands the test of time.
Everyone typically thinks you have to be wealthy to drive a Tesla, the electric sports car created by Elon Musk, with some models costing up to $140,000.
But Green Commuter is defying that idea.
Occhiuzzo is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and migrated to the United States when he was 23. At the time, he had obtained a full scholarship to attend Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego, California. His scholarship was renewed, but he decided to drop out of college and start his own business. That was 20 some years ago.
Over two decades he’s created a number of ventures — a taxi company, a ridesharing service (before there were smartphones), landscaping businesses, and real estate.
Today he’s on his 16th company.
We asked him about his latest creation, the vision for a new kind of automobile sharing service, why everyone could drive a Tesla, and life as a serial entrepreneur.
Why did you start Green Commuter?
The inspiration was to create a company that would leave a legacy. I want the company to not only be a leader in its industry, but also create a path for others to follow.
After creating, running and selling multiple small businesses, I was in a position to retire at 40.
Instead, I decided to build the first zero emission vanpool and car share company, using the same vehicles for both services, all supported by our proprietary app.
The mission is simple: Remove vehicles from the road, improve air quality, and reduce the cost of mobility and commuting.
Green Commuter is the first and only car share benefit corporation in the U.S.A. We take our mission seriously.
Why did you choose Teslas — versus, say, a fleet of Priuses?
We need the vehicle to have 7 seats, be all-electric, and have a 200+ mile range. There is only one vehicle in the market that meets these requirements.
[See: Tesla Model X design and specs here].
How did you end up with a pilot program in Tennessee?
The Tennessee Valley Authority decided to provide funding for a project involving solar panels, electric vehicle chargers, and a 20-vehicle electric car sharing program. Green Commuter was chosen to create and operate the car sharing program, which we fully launched in January 2017 with all 20 electric vehicles.
The program has been successful and we are seeing increased membership and usage of the electric vehicles on a weekly basis.
So far, we have deployed electric vehicles in 12 different locations around Tennessee, with particular success at Southern Adventist University, where we have found heavy demand and oversubscription. We are planning to increase from 3 to 5 vehicles at that location in order to properly serve the 3,500+ student population.
What are your plans for Los Angeles and how will you expand the program here?
Green Commuter has been awarded a grant in partnership with the Antelope Valley Transit Authority to deploy 10 Tesla Model X vehicles commuting from Antelope Valley (the Palmdale/Lancaster area) to Los Angeles.
In addition, Green Commuter has partnered with FAST (Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic) and LACI to operate a vanpool and on demand shuttle service in Downtown L.A. The program calls for 18 Tesla Model X’s to service Los Angeles. Both programs are scheduled to start in mid-2017.
In addition, we plan to expand our fleet of Model X units to over 100 by the end of 2017 in the Los Angeles area.
Where would you like to see the company go — nationwide?
We are focusing our efforts in California, mainly in L.A., Silicon Valley, Sacramento, and the San Joaquin Valley for the time being. After we have a strong hold in California in the next year or so, we will seek other opportunities out of state. Our program can be replicated everywhere in the nation.
How would you like to see people drive or transport themselves in the future?
Ride sharing (meaning multiple people riding in the same vehicle) and car sharing (multiple people taking turns to share a car) is the way we will decrease traffic, improve our air, and lower the cost of mobility and commuting.
Autonomous vehicles will definitely play a role to some extent, but I wouldn’t bank on 100% conversion rate to autonomous vehicles (or driverless cars).
We need to be smart about efficiencies and there is no silver bullet. It will take connected, communicated, autonomous vehicles, plus ride sharing, plus car sharing to really make a dent in traffic and pollution.
In the future, do you think everyone will share cars?
I don’t think so; it will take generations to completely change behavior about car ownership and really see a car as a service rather than a product.
The good news is that cars are depreciating, expensive assets, therefore, there is no real economic incentives to own vehicles — it is merely a matter of convenience and culture.
What have been some of the challenges to started your ridesharing business?
It’s a long list, but here it goes:
For vehicles: When we created Green Commuter, there were no vehicles in the market that met our requirements. A year and a half after we incorporated Green Commuter, the production of the Model X started, so for all that time, we were just hoping the Model X would eventually exist.
For insurance: We reached out to 16 insurance companies that all declined our request for coverage. They all had the same reason: Nobody has ever assessed the risk of a vanpool/car share operation. We kept knocking on their doors and after the third ask, one company customized a program for Green Commuter. It took us a year to get to that point.
For fleet financing: We applied to about 19 banks and financing institutions that turned us down. After seven months of due diligence, we secured a $1,500,000 line of credit with a bank to purchase vehicles and we are pre-approved for $400,000 from a second institution.
At first, the combination of a recently released vehicle, a startup company, and a new business model were deterrents to financing.
For recharging: There are not enough charging stations to support Green Commuter’s expansion. [Teslas are electric vehicles that use no gas, but must be charged]. So we decided to be proactive and make one of the biggest private purchases of electric vehicle chargers in the United States. We bought 200 Level 2 and Level 3 charging units. We work with site hosts to install the chargers in preparation for our expanding fleet of electric vehicles. We recently got approval to install 70 chargers in Palmdale and Lancaster. We are working on 10 additional smaller projects throughout Southern and Northern California.
We also created the first mobile supercharger to further support our electric vehicle fleet.
What makes you happiest about running this company?
We’re allowing people at any income level to be able to drive a premium, zero emission vehicle to work every day, all while saving money.
We talk to vanpool drivers that have never dreamed of driving such a magnificent vehicle, and thanks to Green Commuter, now they can.
Disruption to me is changing a paradigm — offering the most advanced vehicle to low income individuals. You don’t see that type of democratization in transportation; it just doesn’t exist. In air travel, first class is always more expensive than coach. In our case, first class (a Tesla Model X) is cheaper than coach (a big, white, polluting van).
You can’t change fossil fuel dependency in transportation if you don’t engage all demographics. Green Commuter brings everyone into the electric vehicle landscape.
To car share with Green Commuter, go to https://greencommuter.org/carsharing