Mercedes' parent company has a plan to beat Uber at its own game

Moovel appMoovelMoovel can be used to book trips with public transit agencies around the world.

Daimler, Mercedes parent company, is preparing for the death of car ownership in cities.

The move is nothing new within the automotive industry. General Motors has also dipped its toe in the mobility space by launching its car-sharing service Maven. As has BMW with its ReachNow service and Ford with its GoDrive program.

But Daimler is taking a unique approach with its mobility service, Moovel, which the company launched in the US in April 2016 after a series of mergers. Moovel allows urban dwellers to see how well public transit in their city integrates with a bike- or ride-hailing service to get to a final destination. For example, Portland users can buy TriMet tickets and hail a Lyft through the app.

The idea behind Moovel is that it’s a one-stop app for all your mobility needs; you can plan your trip and book rides in one convenient location. To make it attractive to new users, Moovel does feature some competitors on the app.

“Initially, within Daimler, there was a question on why we would create a service that offered BMW ReachNow,” Moovel CEO Nat Parker said in an interview. “Our belief is, if we become the experience on a consistent and confident basis, then our mobility services will also benefit from that.”

Daimler owns Car2Go, one of the largest car-sharing services in the world. It has also invested in ride-hailing services like MyTaxi, an Uber competitor in Europe that’s also available in Washington D.C.

Moovel is still a niche service that has 260,000 regular users and is only available in 11 cities, such as San Francisco and Baltimore. But Parker said Moovel has contracts set up in three additional cities and plans to continue expanding.

Signing up individual public transit agencies, however, takes time.

“They’re scared. I think a lot of [public transit] agencies think their business is going to be cannibalised by tech startups and OEMs who are trying to get into this game,” Parker said.

Although it can be difficult convincing some public transit agencies to sign up, Parker said it’s becoming more important for companies to work with the people running bus and rail lines.

“What Moovel is doing is saying, ‘let’s be frank and actually admit this is a shared user,'” he said. “This is a city dweller of the future and will use our services when it makes sense.”

Moovel has the incentive to make its service attractive to transit agencies because it earns a cut from ticket sales made within the app. Transit agencies in return get a look at Moovel’s data, which shows important information like popular pick-up locations and how people use different routes.

Daimler’s symbiotic approach comes at a time where ride-hailing giants are launching services that some say compete directly with public transit agencies, such as Lyft Shuttle.

“I would say that a lot of the companies when I started… would have said, ‘what the hell are you doing working with public transit, that will slow you down,'” Parker said. “Today it’s incredible the efforts Lyft and Uber are going to to ingratiate themselves in cities. I think a lot of cities are calling bulls–t on that.”

Moovel will eventually help Daimler’s push into the self-driving space, Parker said, noting how Mercedes has been testing a semi-autonomous Future Bus. Setting up relationships with public transit agencies early on can only help Daimler in the end.

Parker said he sees Waymo, a self-driving company born out of Google, being the biggest competitor to Daimler’s various mobility services in the future.

“It is an arms race of sorts and having cities and public transit as our buddies in that space is strategic,” Parker said.

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