In 2007, former Daimler Financial Services executive Robert Henrich was working in the automaker's newly created Business Innovation Center, pondering how residents of crowded cities of the future were going to drive, park and pay for vehicles.
Now he is CEO of moovel Group GmbH, the Daimler unit in charge of actually making money on those questions -- through its car-sharing service Car2Go and other alternative transportation ventures. Henrich spoke from his office in Stuttgart with Staff Reporter Lindsay Chappell.
Q: A decade ago, car-sharing businesses like yours were not on the radar. What changed that made them come to life?
A: For me, the moment came in 2007. I was working at the Daimler innovation center when the Apple iPhone came out. I remember saying, "This technology will change everything. Things are now possible that weren't possible before."
Suddenly, the ability to track vehicles in real time and communicate instantly with customers became possible, and you could create a car-sharing service that responded to what consumers needed. Without smartphones, Car2Go would never have been possible.
There is an American attitude that you must own your own vehicle to have the freedom to go wherever you want whenever you want. Isn't moovel at odds with that?
No. In fact, I believe freedom is what we're offering consumers. In the increasing urban sprawl of cities and suburbs, people need transportation that they often don't have. Young people and old people can't afford to own a car, or there is nowhere to park one, or there are restrictions on where a vehicle can go. Our mission is to provide solutions to those problems.
Moovel is in business to make it possible for consumers to get around without buying new vehicles. It seems like the Mercedes guys wouldn't be so happy to see you come to work in the morning.
Daimler is in the mobility business. The company's larger focus is to provide transportation solutions to people around the world -- whatever that entails.
Moovel also is planning to be a player in the robo-taxi industry -- providing vehicles that will arrive at my house to take me to the airport with nobody driving.
Yes. We are moving toward that. It will be available in just a few years. Perhaps in the 2020 to 2030 time frame.
But you're talking about more than creating the cars.
Exactly. Daimler is investing in that technology, and it will be good Mercedes hardware. But if all we did was provide the hardware, we would merely be a commodity supplier.
We are building our whole mobility service to prepare for that reality. It's providing the seamless service part of it that will be critical for us.