Mobility: more than just a car 

Philipp Reth, CEO of Volkswagen-owned Urban Mobility International, explains to Alex Kreetzer the automaker’s latest mobility-driven company, We Share. 

It is time to rethink mobility. For years, we have been fixated with the idea that movement is isolated to privately-owned vehicles and public networks. But the future of mobility is so much more than this – it involves cities, its inhabitants and the environment that surrounds us all. Until now, the private car has been the ‘go-to’ for many people, which will continue to put more stress on the world we live in, which, as we know, is an extremely unsustainable way of existing. 

To combat this, new mobility services are being introduced to the public, aimed at combating these major issues we see in front of us today, from congestion to pollution, that not only add stress to our daily lives but are posing significant risks to the planet. By combining new technology and smart business models, mobility providers are creating services for sustainable, simple and affordable mobility, attracting consumers over from their personal vehicles. Take Volkswagen’s latest service, “We Share”, which provides on-demand, stress-free solutions for individual mobility needs in major cities across the world. To get to know the service and what VW is aiming to do on its journey towards success in the mobility industry, I speak to Philipp Reth, the CEO of the Volkswagen-owned carsharing spin-off Urban Mobility International, who believes that mobility is more than just a car. “There is a growing need for vehicle-on-demand services, with a predicted annual growth of 15%,” says Reth. “We Share will offer a sustainable, simple and affordable mobility solution to a new, young and urban target group that is currently not being addressed by Volkswagen.” The aim of the service is to cover all mobility needs, from short journeys in the city to longer vacation trips. “Our ultimate goal is to make life in our cities calmer, greener and more attractive,” assures Reth. 

A new strategy

The industry is filling up with new ambitious and heavily funded competitors, especially from the US and China says Reth, which are pushing into a new field of business. Although these new competitors may not be as experienced when it comes to manufacturing, they have an advantage through emerging technology due to their background in the technology field. “These companies have an edge regarding software development, connectivity and building digital ecosystems that transfer the digital life of users into our cars,” adds Reth. “These are the differentiating factors of the car of tomorrow. We need to build up competencies and partnerships in these areas and also consider acquisitions.” And this is exactly what VW has been doing. “Together – Strategy 2025” will see the biggest change in the company’s history, with a new focus on transforming the core business and tapping potential new revenue streams, such as electrification, battery technology, autonomous driving and mobility services. 

Reth explains that this new approach has already initiated many new efforts for Volkswagen, which is working on strengthening these together with external partners. “Our goal is to build a group-wide ‘One Digital Platform’ on which we can offer our digital services to customers across all touchpoints.” By creating a smarter business model for sustainable, simple and affordable mobility, VW can position itself at the forefront of the mobility revolution. But, unlike some, the goal is not necessary to persuade the customer to move away from a personal car. “We Share will provide a mobility solution to people that either consciously decide not to have their own car in the first place - because of high expenses or seldom usage for example - or for car-owners that prefer a shared car in certain situations. Therefore, We Share is not limited to free-floating carsharing and will eventually cover all mobility needs from the short journey that takes just a few minutes to longer vacation trips.” When it is launched in 2019, We Share will be one of the largest carsharing operations based on electric vehicles, and will differ from mobility-on-demand services through a vehicle-on-demand service, rather than the user being driven, creating even more flexibility and freedom for customers. 

(From left): Michael Jost, Chief Strategy Officer of the Volkswagen Brand and Head of Group Strategy Product, Jürgen Stackmann, Volkswagen Brand Board Member for Sales, Philipp Reth, CEO of the Volkswagen subsidiary UMI Urban Mobility International, Christoph Hartung, Head of Digital & New Business / Mobility Services at the Volkswagen brand.
A fresh I.D.ea

Mobility services will play a big part in the long-term adoption of EVs and VW has identified this. Reth believes that shared mobility services that operate directly with EVs will motivate users to engage with e-mobility, especially with VW’s new range of I.D. vehicles on the horizon. “We Share will operate an all-electric fleet, starting with 1,500 e-Golfs in Berlin by the second quarter of 2019, adding 500 e-up! vehicles later,” he adds. “As of 2020, We Share will support the market ramp-up of our new I.D. models, a completely new vehicle generation, thus making a significant contribution to the Volkswagen brand’s e-mobility offensive.” These all-electric I.D. models, that will play a significant role in the service from 2020 onwards, present a completely new generation of the vehicle with the benefits of over 550 kilometres range, unique interiors and next-level connectivity features which will make even a shared ID. feel personal.

The Urban Mobility International (UMI) operates as a corporate start-up for VW, giving new flexibilities that ensure a short-time to market and also attracts different talent from other startups - something extremely difficult for the large automakers to do. This allows We Share to operate as a stand-alone company and operate like a startup. “We Share is a central component of Volkswagen digital ecosystem WE,” explains Reth. This means that We Share users will automatically have access to all WE services, which also includes We Deliver, We Park, We Experience, VW Connected and Car-Net. In addition, Reth ensures that the service will not affect VW’s existing partnership with Zipcar. “Zipcar and VW have a long-standing partnership that led to the market leadership of Zipcar in London. We Share will not affect the strong ties between the two partners and eventually only expand the partnership.” This illustrates a focus on urban environments, creating a complete ecosystem for consumers to enjoy. For now, the primary focus is on cities with a population of over one million. Reth also says that VW is constantly running in-depth analyses of all relevant cities to evaluate if an electric car sharing operation is feasible or not. However, its roll-out plan must maintain a certain flexibility in order for it to react to new opportunities such as new tenders by city authorities.

Following its launch in Berlin, We Share is scheduled to be rolled out in other major cities in Germany. Moving forward, there are plans to expand into European core markets and selected cities in North America from 2020. It’s certainly an exciting time for VW and its customers. 

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