At your service

Car2Go’s Chief Product Officer William Knapp explains to Alex Kreetzer how the Daimler-owned mobility provider is changing the world.

Julian Turner

Something that I find quite strange in the industry, is the perception that replacing all the petrol and diesel cars with electric powered vehicles will save the world. Although this is an improvement, this doesn't deal with major issues we face today, which are congestion and inefficient transport, especially in urban areas. Privatised cars are no longer a sustainable model and this will have to change, sooner rather than later. This brings me on to the solution: car sharing. Yes, people may turn their nose up at this, however, this is the only way we can go if we want to create an efficient ecosystem in our cities. We need to identify and accept the fact that our vehicles are parked up for 90% of the day and, although they may be enjoyable to drive, they are a roadblock in progression. I speak to William Knapp to find out why Daimler entered the car market and how the company aims to achieve efficient and accessible mobility. “Why would an automobile manufacturer want to create a service that doesn't go after people who are buying cars and, instead, aims for a service that provides transportation and mobility without the need to buy a car?” he questions. “Daimler was very forward-thinking in this respect. It considers itself as a mobility company and has always focused on getting people from point A to point B. It is time to reinvent the way we get around cities because the world we live in today won't support the continued growth of passenger car sales.” Car2Go has been a success story for Daimler, now at three million members across three continents around the world in 26 cities including Asia, America and Europe. Through continued growth, the mobility service is at the forefront of revolutions that will start to appear in the transportation industry over the next few years.  

Nowadays, automakers cannot put all of their eggs into one basket due to the drastic change that we are starting to see. Flexibility has become a huge asset for companies that have been involved in the industry since the beginning. To combat this shift over to a mobility market, automakers have to think further afield from a linear buy-to-sell model and start to create a sustainable - and profitable - mobility service, such as Car2Go. "I can't see a near term future where private car ownership is eliminated; I think people will still love cars and there are still a lot of use cases where people need to own a vehicle, given where they live and what they like to do with the car. However, I think flexibility is one of the key aspects of why Car2Go is such an important service. We offer this service to people who want to have the joy and freedom of driving a car without the burden of ownership. In dense urban populations, it can be very challenging to own a car, as you have to deal with parking, insurance and general expenses. If you have the flexibility you have with Car2Go, you can get the best of both worlds." 

Carsharing is the future  

Carsharing not only relieves congestion in our cities but creates a hassle-free way to travel for the public. For example, when travelling into the centre of London, drivers have to pay a congestion charge and will evidently struggle to find parking spaces. Mobility services like Car2Go remove this burden, with exclusive parking spaces and no congestion charge. However, the main issue is down to the generation gap, with many drivers so used to private ownership that they do not want to lose out. Unsurprisingly, Car2Go's main customers are under the age of 30, so it all comes down to changing the perception for older people to achieve a solution across all ages. Yes, this would change over a few decades, but that is too long a timeframe for what the industry wants to achieve. Knapp believes that there are a lot of factors that lead to the demographic that is aimed at younger people right now. “We are in a period of uncertainty for younger people who may not have the money or the resources to purchase new cars, which has seen us drive into a new era of transportation where a car doesn't seem to be as important to people,” he says. “People are waiting longer to get their driving licences - if at all - and these trends are what we are focused on.” Car2Go’s business model was first constructed around using Daimler’s city Smart cars, aimed at an urban population that didn't have the need to move a family. Now, it has expanded its model offering with larger Mercedes vehicles in order to attract different age demographics that weren't as predominant in the beginning.  

“Even in dense cities, we still have a large population of Smart vehicles, which is a perfect fit for finding parking in dense areas like Berlin,” Knapp continues. “Additionally, one of the great benefits of carsharing is that each vehicle removes the need for seven to 20 private vehicles, which helps relieve congestion and, in neighbourhoods where we have a very good customer base, remove the likelihood that people need to own their own vehicle.” This naturally creates the ability for parking to be freed up in these built up areas and creates more space for people to carry on their day-to-day lives. In some cities, Car2Go has even obtained dedicated parking spaces for its customers, which has allowed further accessibility and usability when using the service. This further depicts Car2Go’s flexibility in many unique cities around the world, able to focus on different solutions that fit the area’s need to make the service even more convenient. Another advantage of Car2Go is how it fits in with the rest of Daimler’s mobility divisions. Daimler Financial Services and Daimler Mobility Services have invested a lot of money into Car2Go’s sister companies, MyTaxi and the Mooval Group, which has helped build a wholistic transport solution for city dwellers. “This approach has allowed us to build relationships with public transit agencies and find solutions for customers who are interested in a variety of transportation.” For example, Car2Go provides interfaces from its system that allows Mooval customers to find and rent a vehicle in the area, which simplifies each app and service.  

Tailored transport

Carsharing is a very good way to introduce people to new technologies such as electrification, and Car2Go has been committed to pushing EVs to become a dominant part of mobility services. “We already have three cities in Europe which are all-electric, with approximately 1,400 EVs in Stuttgart, Amsterdam and Madrid which are involved in over 10,000 trips each day,” explains Knapp. This is a great way to introduce EVs and reduce the uncertainty surrounding the range and performance of these alternative cars as carsharing continues to move in the direction of electrification. Although Car2Go already operates EV fleets in these three European cities, it has been difficult to extend these services due to a lack of support elsewhere. “Infrastructure is a key component to EV development, which can be an issue for us when promises aren't met,” says Knapp. “For example, we had a desire to introduce an electric fleet in San Diego, however the infrastructure support that was supposed to come from other groups never materialised, which made it very difficult to operate the business.” The company is very fortunate in cities like Stuttgart and Amsterdam which have a large amount of public infrastructure that is available to charge the vehicles, but the mobility service needs to receive the same support in cities further afield. 

In some cases, this means taking a different approach, with different levels of EV infrastructure and support in each city. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Madrid, although less developed than Stuttgart and Amsterdam, is one of Car2go’s best markets in terms of EVs. “In Madrid we take a different approach, using a hub to charge in the city through a service routine, and this has been successful for us as the city has one of the highest utilisation rates for Car2Go,” he explains. “There are different solutions in each city, so we must analyse these markets to provide an excellent service for our customers.” So, it is not entirely down to the infrastructure itself, but the collaboration and understanding between the mobility service provider and the city, working with local authorities in order to create the best possible solution. “We have always been a company which prides itself on working with local governments to find solutions, rather than try to force our way in like many others have tried to do,” Knapp continues. “We have collaborated with every city we wanted to operate in and worked with them to find the best solution for each environment, supporting present initiatives and rollout.” By doing so, mobility companies, the cities they operate in and consumers can all benefit from this innovation.  

So, it is obvious that mobility services like Car2Go are already creating a positive effect in our cities, but we will see a significant improvement in the near future and, further down the line, a revolutionary shift over to technology-driven fleets, such as driverless vehicles. But, for now, the objective for Knapp is to enter new markets and improve cities worldwide. “The goal is to continue to prepare for the next steps that we can take in order to grow and scale the business. Car2Go really builds a lot of intelligence around what it takes to run an asset-heavy fleet of vehicles. At the same time, we are analysing what it would be like to have an asset-light platform as, in the end, it could be a combination of these two factors. It all comes down to what takes us into the future.” 

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