An Interview With Elena Ciccotelli, Vice President, Automotive Practice, Teleperformance

Wards: Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your role at Teleperformance?

Elena: I am the Vice President of the Automotive Practice for the global digital business service company, Teleperformance. I believe I am the first woman in this role for them, with more than 420,000 employees in 20 countries around the world. Before this, I was the Director of Automotive Partnerships at Lyft, pioneering dealer and automotive industry relationships in that area. Along the way I’ve developed some great industry wide relationships, and actively attend groundbreaking conferences, like AutoTech: Electrification to keep up to date on new innovations. I try to reflect all of this new information in my podcast, “EVs for Everyone” and give all the benefits of some industry “insider” developments to all who are interested in vehicle electrification.

Wards: Your journey into automotive hasn’t followed the most traditional route. Which industries have you been involved with in the past, and what learnings have you taken and applied in AutoTech?

Elena: You’re right. I bet there are very few folks in the industry who have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance and started out life as a professional ballet dancer..

From dancing, I developed a personal training company, first for dancers and then broadened out for all women, bootstrapping all the way. This was noticed by some authors on my “guerilla marketing techniques,” and I was featured in a popular business marketing book at the time, called “Me 2.0” which ultimately led to my first podcast. This developed into me teaching others along the way how to amplify their personal brand. I then did a few things in new automotive retailing technologies, which led to my role at Lyft, where I focused on setting strategy and tactics on how to develop relationships and visibility with dealers and other automotive industry institutions. From there, I was recruited to my current VP position at Teleperformance, developing relationships throughout the automotive vertical.

Bottom line, I’ve found that when you’re able to walk in your customers shoes and understand exactly what they feel, want, hope for and love…magic starts to happen. And if you can create a sense of magic with your customer, everything else falls into place. In a lot of ways, – this is the one “NorthStar” that I’ve carried through all my various activities.

Wards: You’re the host of EVs for Everyone, a podcast focused on the electrified future of automotive. Why did you choose electric vehicles as a focus for this podcast?

Elena: Anytime there’s a disruptive technology that will significantly improve our world, I’m in. And for me, the unprecedented change from ICE to EV is the most significant thing to happen to the automotive industry in the last 100 years or so.

It’s this multi-layered, sometimes perplexingly complex evolution that lends itself naturally to great podcast content. In the one year I’ve been producing the show, there’s never been a shortage of people, stories (and controversies) to cover! Another reason for starting the podcast is the huge gap I see in the market for the type of show I wanted to produce around electrification. I wasn’t able to find much approachable, non-academic, non-technical content around this topic and thought, “what if I put my own spin on this?”

Wards: And who are the most innovative companies you’ve seen in the electrification industry? Are there any notable products or technologies?

Elena: Great question, they are many and varied and I continue to discover fantastic new companies, technologies and people every day. For example, I’m really intrigued by what Treehouse is doing with EV charger installation “as-a-service” because this is something that is truly really needed right now with all of the confusion around Level 2 charging at home. Speaking of charging, I’m also a fan of the wireless charging capabilities of WiTricity and their plan to incorporate this technology in cities and businesses. I did an interview with Amy Barzdukas, CMO of WiTricity in January 2023 called, “So You’re Saying I Can Wirelessly Charge My EV?” and it’s still, to this day, one of my favorite episodes on the podcast. Recurrent is another company that I admire for the simple fact that they’ve been an EV authority before there was even such a thing, (EV OGs if you will) and Scott Case, the CEO, is one of the most knowledgeable and nicest people in electrification I’ve ever met. And last but not least, I want to give a huge shout-out to DriveItAway for their innovative platform and technology that enables credit challenged and folks with moderate incomes to first drive, then buy an EV vehicle leveraging all national and local incentives, truly “EVs For Everyone.” Their new initiative with staffing agencies to enable people to get to work where reliable personal transportation is a big problem, is truly inspiring. Disclaimer: I might have a little bias here, given my relationship with the CEO.

Wards: You have a strong legacy in the podcasting world, starting out with Side Gig Central focused on the gig economy. What is it about the gig economy that most interested you?

Elena: I was asked a similar question back in 2019, when I was interviewed on the floor of the NYSE by Cheddar Business, and my answer remains the same. The reason why the gig economy interests me so much is because side gigs are a great steppingstone into entrepreneurship, a way to mitigate the riskiness of a full-on venture in an effort to decide if this is something you’d like to do more of. It’s also a way to help you develop new skills and talents that maybe your current 9-5 does not satisfy. Ironically, through launching the Side Gig Central Podcast and talking to hundreds of other “solopreneurs,” I found my passion for podcasting which has turned into a wonderful side gig in and of itself.

Wards: There’s a strong connection between the gig economy and mobility. How do you see this business model evolving over the next few years?

Elena: Mobility right now is the heart of the gig economy, as rideshare and delivery are the key drivers of volume for gig revenue. In fact, I think rideshare and delivery in a very real sense energized, legitimized, and clearly broadened gig work into the mainstream, and created a steppingstone for millions of people.

Right now, gig rideshare and delivery is also in the forefront of EV transition in places like California, as, with the high miles driven in rideshare and delivery, are a perfect use case for vehicle decarbonization, as it has a much greater impact for ICE replacement.

In the future, when autonomous “mainstream” vehicles become a reality, everyone targets rideshare for that use case as well, as it will bring the cost per mile down considerably, however, I think we are many years away from the replacement of a human driver for “gig” driven vehicles…we shall see.

Wards: You’ve also interviewed several rideshare drivers in the past. If there was one piece of information they shared with you which you could pass on to OEMs and MSPs (managed service provider) what would that be?

Elena: In order to take advantage of higher earnings, rideshare drivers are feeling the pressure to go electric but there are a number of hurdles and anxieties rideshare drivers are still experiencing.

The main issue can be summed up in two words. Charging and affordability. Yes, it can be argued these are the same issues facing Main Street USA, but for a rideshare driver, these issues are amplified. For example, while it’s true a rideshare driver can complete a majority of their charging at home, the reality is if you’re clocking 4, 5 or even 6 hours of driving, covering an average of ~170 miles per day, compared to the average American who only clocks 35), there are going to be times when refueling on the road is a must, even if the EV claims to have a 200 mile range or more. Throw in the fact that most of the charging infrastructure out there right now is just straight-up confusing (or inoperable) and you have a very real hesitation from rideshare drivers on making the switch to EV.

I’ve been told on several occasions from seasoned rideshare drivers that they waste more precious time trying to figure out how to charge, how to pay, how to set up the app correctly with certain charging networks, only to find out the charging station they’ve pulled into is inoperable. With the exception of CA and NY, most rideshare drivers are not driving around in Teslas and (right now) cannot take advantage of the Tesla fast charging network until next year when the new NACS standard will take effect. The critical factor of the speed at which you can get back out on the road and complete trips cannot be overstated, and quick turnaround is absolutely vital to a rideshare driver’s earning potential (and peace of mind).

As for affordability, if there’s a cheaper ICE unit a rideshare driver can get their hands on, they’re taking it, especially if it’s their only car in the driveway and they’ve heard nightmare stories about dealing with the hassle of charging. I’ve heard stories from one EV subscription company where they had a very real problem of getting rideshare drivers to commit to subscribing to an EV, even when they explained the total cost of ownership would be significantly decreased over time as compared to an ICE vehicle.

Overall, rideshare drivers want OEMs and MSPs to recognize they are not your typical EV driver and need additional education, assistance and programs tailored to their needs.

Wards: Where do you go to stay up to date on the latest trends and technologies in AutoTech?

Elena: and the WardsAuto Podcast, of course! As a fellow podcaster, I really appreciate David Kiley’s interview style and how he brings fresh and interesting automotive content to life. One of my favorite episodes is Ep. 12 “The Transition from ICE to EVs. It’s a Mess” because it so effortlessly points out the array of contradictions all of us in the automotive industry face on a daily basis. I would be remiss if I also didn’t mention some of the other publications I check out regularly: Automotive News, Automotive Remarketing and Automotive Fleet continue to be staples for me. I’m also a huge advocate of attending live events and conferences in the industry in order to stay up to date on all things electrification. And guess what? It just so happens conferences are a great place to meet with other automotive influencers and record a candid podcast episode (or two).

Wards: What is one key piece of advice you’d give to a young person considering a career in automotive tech & mobility?

Elena: First and foremost, for all my fellow introverts out there, I know this is going to be a tough pill to swallow, but my advice would be to get out there (in the real world) and talk to as many people as possible. For the automotive tech and mobility industries in particular, this is so key. Some of my most valued business relationships I’ve developed over the years have come from getting out there and talking to people, even though I was scared out of my mind.

The second, bonus piece of advice I’d give is to pay attention to your strengths and your values, and above all else, stick to them no matter what. With so much exciting opportunity in this industry also comes the temptation to compromise. Good things come to those who stay true to who they are.


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