Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
LOS ANGELES — MOTEV could easily sum up what defines its chauffeured transportation without using a 30-second speed network or elevator pitch, or any typical marketing message.
Just put on a pair of their virtual reality goggles and you’ll understand. MOTEV is the first luxury ground transportation operation to market itself with VR, where the company places the viewer into the world of the chauffeured client approaching and entering a Tesla Model X. When managers brought the VR headgear to an industry event, a line of attendees cued up for the one-of-a-kind immersive transportation experience.
For MOTEV, the advanced marketing couldn’t be a better fit, given the long entertainment industry involvement of its co-owner-managing-member-chauffeur Robert Gaskill and his co-owner and member, actor Morgan Freeman, who Gaskill has chauffeured for 25 years.
With Freeman’s blessing, Gaskill for the last three years has evolved one of the most progressive and unique ground transportation services in the industry that taps into the values of its clientele and region. About 40% of its clients come from the massive entertainment industry in Los Angeles, including celebrities, VIPs, producers, corporate executives and managers, and attendees to awards shows and special events.
Aside from its A-list associations, MOTEV is best known for the seven Tesla Model X crossovers and four Tesla Model S sedans that form the core of its 32-vehicle fleet and define its electric vehicle green image. MOTEV is a “hybrid” moniker derived from “motive” and “EV” (electrical vehicles). For every ride booked, whether the vehicle is electric, hybrid, or conventional fuel, MOTEV donates via the Pledgeling charitable system the funds for the One Tree non-profit to plant a tree.
“We tell affiliates of ours we are planting trees whenever they’re bringing us business,” Gaskill says. “We’re not charging them more to do that. We are setting aside that money to plant that tree out of our revenue on each affiliate run. So there are many companies out there that are part of what we do.”
From an operational standpoint, MOTEV in many ways embodies the chauffeured transportation company of the future: Running unique green vehicles; shaped by core company values that support a cleaner environment; deeply attuned to its clients and markets; and heavily involved with improving the communities within its service region (see nearby charities list further below).
Location: Los Angeles / Valencia, CA
Owners: Robert Gaskill, managing partner; Morgan Freeman, partner
Fleet vehicles: 32
Fleet vehicle types: 7 Tesla Model X crossovers; 4 Tesla Model S sedans; 5 Mercedes-Benz hybrid S550e sedans; 3 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans; 1 BMW 7 series sedan; 2 Cadillac XTS sedans; 6 Chevrolet Suburban SUVs; 2 Sprinter vans; and 2 Ford Transit vans.
Client mix: 40% entertainment industry; 50% corporate; 10% personal/other
Employees: 33 (23 chauffeurs, 10 office staff)
Key executives: Tiffany Hinton, chief administrative officer; Larry Johnson, director of marketing and owner of Reach Advertising & Design; Johne Baker, affiliate manager; Araceli Theard, sales and events coordinator.
Awards: 2019 LCT Operator of the Year Award, (11-30) vehicles; 2018 LCT People’s Choice Innovation Award (Gaskill)
Information: (323) 844-0282; [email protected]
The No. 1 pillar value for MOTEV is loyalty, borne directly out of the relationship between Gaskill and Freeman.
“Robert was loyal to Morgan Freeman and he provided outstanding service over an extended time and in return for that loyalty, Freeman joined with him in this journey,” says Tiffany Hinton, the chief administrative officer for MOTEV. “It’s the loyalty we share amongst each other, with our clients, and the loyalty we have to our overall vision of sustainability.”
MOTEV is part of Freeman’s business portfolio that includes his Los Angeles-based production company, Revelations Entertainment, and the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Miss., the state where he is originally from and where he lives when not working and traveling.
MOTEV was the brainchild of Gaskill, a longtime entertainment VIP chauffeur who first started driving Freeman in 1994. As is often the case in Hollywood, Gaskill’s career with Freeman was happenstance when the actor was working on the film Outbreak.
“I was driving Dustin Hoffman as a low seniority Teamster in the union in the film, TV, and studio world,” Gaskill recalls. “Dustin had about a month off and instead of laying me off and possibly not being able to get me back on due to seniority issues, the transportation managers on that film put me on driving Mr. Freeman and Rene Russo, who are two individuals I absolutely love at the highest levels. But the producer, Arnold Kopelson, for that film had another film in the wings called Seven with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. I initially was Brad’s driver in pre-production. Morgan then signed at the very last minute on the film and requested me out from underneath Brad, and that’s when I officially became Mr. Freeman’s chauffeur.”
High-profile actors like Freeman often prefer chauffeurs and personnel who they can completely trust with their safety and that of their families. “That is where Morgan came in and said, ‘You know what? I want this man around me. I’m comfortable with him,’” Gaskill says. “And it just was an instant click and familiarity. I mean he has invested in a company for his driver. There’s no higher compliment.”
Gaskill developed as a chauffeur and bodyguard to Freeman for more than two decades, driving and accompanying him on film and TV shoots worldwide as well as chauffeuring him to locations and appointments throughout the Los Angeles region.
Fast forward to 2016 as Gaskill was flying back with Freeman from India on a private jet that stopped over in Russia. “At the end of this project, ‘The Story of God,’ I looked at him and I said, ‘I don’t know how you do this.’ And he goes, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ I said, ‘I don’t know how you do this.’ He goes, ‘Well, I’ve got the highest level of staff.’ And I said, ‘I understand we’re at the top of our game of each of our departments, but I mean physically traveling the world.’ It was like we were in 30 different countries in 45 days and we were going from here to there and back and forth and just going nuts. So you lived and slept on a plane and every once in a while you’d stay overnight in a hotel and you’d get up in the middle of the night and you’d have no idea where you were.”
Freeman asked Gaskill, “with a kind of fatherly look on his face,” where he was going with the conversation, and Gaskill replied he wanted to start a transportation business. Gaskill’s grandfather worked as a chauffeur and his uncle as a transportation manager. Freeman challenged Gaskill asking what would distinguish his service from the thousands of other limousine companies in the Los Angeles region.
“I said, ‘Well, I haven’t seen anybody start a black car service using Teslas. And that’s the new Apple iPhone with four wheels; that’s the new gadget everybody wants to touch or be around or be seen in, so why don’t we start a transportation company with that?’” Freeman asked for a business plan and then green-lighted the venture.
“Mr. Freeman has used many black car services around the world,” Gaskill says. “Up until the last few years, we haven’t seen black car services step out and consider the carbon footprint and what we’re doing to the world and the need to give back. Previously, you didn’t have any high enough level quality electric vehicles other than Tesla that really could spark interest with the clientele we’re servicing.”
Gaskill remembers well what Freeman told him on the jet ride about the birth of MOTEV. “‘Robert, you’ve got to think it’s not just a company supplying a product or a need to a client with the service you’re providing in exchange for cash. There’s more to this. You’ve got to think about what you’re doing for your local community, what you’re doing beyond.’”
Freeman, 82, says MOTEV matches his values about reducing climate change and protecting the environment. He spoke with LCT last month during his production company’s holiday party at a private home in Malibu.
“I’m strictly on the side of any scientist who says, ‘We’ve got very little time to turn this around.’ We’re talking about climate change and global warming. A lot of people think it’s nothing real, and they’ll think that right up until the last minute. It’s not like you and I have to worry about it. But if you have any kids, or you’re concerned about your grandkids and great grandkids, then we need to leave a planet here, otherwise we’ll kill everything. And this isn’t idle chatter. It’s a fact. The scientists are saying, ‘Well, we’ve made a mistake. It’s going to be a lot quicker than we thought.’ So, what do we do? You do what you can. And we thought what we can do is help reduce the carbon footprint. In Los Angeles and in California, there are plenty of limousine services, but none of them are doing what we’re doing. But somebody’s got to start and we’re it.”
Although Freeman says he doesn’t consider himself a salesman, he tries in his own way to persuade friends and industry colleagues to use MOTEV. “It’s something that has to catch on, and thanks to these three (Gaskill, Hinton, and Larry Johnson), we think we’re catching on. Most people can understand who we are and what we’re doing. They’ll give us a second look. We’re not just another start-up company. We’re trying to be a community business. A community of being kind.”
Freeman says he considers ways his movie and TV projects can include the message and awareness about climate change. “If they come along, I jump at it. Any way we can pass the message on, I’m willing to do it. I can’t stress enough my feelings about this. Let’s step away and look back at this thing called Earth. It’s a marvel in the universe. Nowhere we humans have looked have we seen anything that begins to be close to this Earth, and we cannot mess it up.”
To that end, Freeman appreciates California’s leadership on the issue. “I think the great thing about California is they are actually leaders. It goes back to Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger, who catapulted this effort in saving the atmosphere.”
Putting a premium on charity and community-based networking and contributions is another MOTEV pillar.
Gaskill, Hinton, and marketing director Larry Johnson often split up to network at events and meetings, and if they develop a prospective account, text one another to ensure real answers in real time, which often leads to a business relationship.
“We spider out and try to reach as many demographics as we can,” Hinton says. “We put ourselves in situations where we have forced networking with the right people at the right time. It truly is six degrees of separation. You never know who knows who.”
Johnson, who also runs Reach Advertising & Design, adds, “Often when we’re in the field and we’ve fanned out across the city, we’re texting each other, so it looks like we’re goofing off but we’re saying, ‘Hey, I’m standing here with so and so.’ We all have an understanding of what the bottom line needs to be, so we message each other [to confirm] while building the new client relationship.”
The trio emphasizes the personal connections they make and often take calls from clients to handle runs and reservations. “These are people we have relationships with where we become part of their network,” Johnson says.
Los Angeles has the infrastructure in place to accommodate continual recharging of electrical vehicles. The Teslas have a maximum range of 245 miles per charge and typically run 10-14 hours per day, with quick recharges as needed.
Besides clean efficient energy, Teslas run on data-driven safety. Each Tesla constantly downloads software updates and new data from the manufacturer’s “mothership” based on the data it gathers from all Tesla vehicles, Hinton says. “The car that makes you safer is already here. This Tesla tomorrow will know where the new potholes are because another Tesla has driven past those potholes. It will know where the road is not graded.”
Safety is crucial to the guest experience, Gaskill adds. “You move away from just the aesthetics and the accoutrements inside the vehicle to the safety factor because you’re improving the guest experience through technology. Then you add more features like Wi-Fi so the client can function and take care of business.”
Another advantage for the Teslas is its public image, especially among entertainment and celebrity clientele who are visible and recognizable. Many prefer to identify with more commonplace green vehicles while avoiding the flashiness associated with more expensive vehicle types.
The company’s management model draws on delegation and allowing employees to make decisions based on company values.
“Mr. Freeman and I are not micro-managers,” Gaskill says. “We empower managers to run the business. There’s not one individual here who throws down the hammer.”
Hinton says the company considers itself a family start-up, trying out and experimenting with new approaches to luxury ground transportation. “What attracted me to this company is our goal to provide outstanding luxury transportation, and we also have a dual purpose of sharing this incredible message with the world that there is a better way to travel, and it is important how you treat people.”
Johnson adds, “We take Robert’s 25 years of experience taking care of Morgan Freeman and his family and we extend that into the culture of the company. We take care of people.”
The company also builds client profiles so chauffeurs know what people need before they even set foot into a vehicle, Johnson says. “That’s protecting the guest experience and then using the technology to elevate it so it’s the white-glove service which comes from Robert’s experience and skillset.”
One example of providing luxury guest experiences is the client who prefers the same chauffeur on regular runs who knows how to order his specific drink from Starbucks, get his fresh fruit and pastry from Whole Foods, and then have it ready in the backseat when picking up the client. That’s the type of attention, detail, and consistency that defines premium chauffeured service.
“We’re definitely trying to promote luxury and dependability,” Hinton says. “Our chauffeurs have a level of distinction. The type of cars we use differ from everyone else’s in the industry on purpose because we’re looking for a certain client. We say all the time this is a niche business. MOTEV is not the black car transportation for everyone. We’re for the person who’s made up their minds they want to make a difference.”
After only one year of operation, MOTEV in 2017 bought its first company, Coolride Chauffeured Transportation, based in Santa Clarita, which doubled the size of its operation. The company occupies 8,000 square feet of a renovated warehouse, still labeled “The Bread Yard,” in South Los Angeles that once served as a Hostess bakery distribution facility.
As MOTEV looks to the future, it plans to incorporate other all-electric vehicles from luxury auto manufacturers as they become more viable and enter the market. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Volvo are all advancing models that combine luxury with electric efficiency. The company also is looking for smaller luxury vehicles more suited to shorter urban trips given that some clients have told them they don’t feel safe with Uber yet don’t need to reserve a longer trip.
“There are lots of people who travel as individuals or only in pairs,” Hinton says. “We’re open to exploring having smaller vehicles in our fleet that can service them.”
MOTEV’s business model stresses the value of community and industry involvement as a way of expressing the company’s values and networking for business. Company leaders spend almost every evening in December attending holiday functions and events related to many of these groups, as well as meetings and fundraisers throughout the year. Here is a complete list of diverse organizations that show the wide variety of groups, causes, and charities available to any operator:
Charities and Giving
• One Tree United
• Single Moms Planet
• Children of Promise
• Inglewood Chapter of Kiwanis
• Midnight Mission
• One for All
• Inglewood Chamber of Commerce (Gaskill, vice chair)
• Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce
• West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce
• Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce
• Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce
• Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce
• Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
• Central City Association
Professional & trade groups
• Greater California Livery Association
• Minority Limousine Operators of America
• Electric Vehicle Association
• Green Business Association
• KCET-TV Community Advisory Board
• National Limousine Association
Related Topics: California operators, celebrities, customer service, Electric Vehicles, Entertainment, green initiatives, green marketing, green vehicles, Los Angeles operators, MOTEV, operator profiles, Robert Gaskill, Tesla, Tesla Model S, Tesla Model X, VIP service
Industry leader and California operator Maurice Brewster contributes insights to a Wall Street Journal article.
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