eco charm offensive

E-car service Uber Green to launch in Berlin despite misgivings

Uber Green 1800×1200
Oscar the Grouch got wheels. Source: Uber

Ride-hailing service Uber plans to launch its fully electric Uber Green service in Berlin later this year after a pilot project in Munich went better than expected.

The service has already been launched in London, Paris and Zurich. Uber’s head of German operations, Christoph Weigler, told Handelsblatt he had expected 15,000 people to use the fleet of 30 battery-powered cars in the first three months in Munich. It ended up at 25,000.

Electric vehicles are ideal for the company’s business model: short journeys, little maintenance, emission free, Mr. Weigler said. “That goes down well with our partners.”

Debate about driving bans for older diesel cars in German cities with high air pollution, like Hamburg and Stuttgart, raised awareness of the need for green solutions, he noted.

“Many people have realized that things can’t go on like that,” Mr. Weigler said. “We can be part of the solution.” Uber plans to discuss possible ventures with other cities in Germany in the coming months.

Uber’s rocky start still smarts

But Germany is a difficult market for Uber due to misgivings about its business model and strong homegrown competition.

In 2014, the US company tried to barge its way into the market, ignoring local rules and regulations until German courts banned Uber from offering its core service: arranging rides using private drivers via the Uber app. Politicians, authorities and taxi drivers have been skeptical ever since.

From that time on, the company has been trying to set up a business model that’s compatible with Berlin’s regulations by only using professional drivers, and restricting its operations to Munich and Berlin.

With more than 80 million inhabitants, Germany is a tempting market for Uber, which is why Mr. Weigler is fighting for changes to the rules. He wants the authorities to drop a requirement that drivers must stay at their base while waiting for orders. That forces them to make journeys without passengers  — an outdated rule now cities are looking for ways to reduce their nitrogen oxide levels and avoid driving bans.

Uber bikes and more

Uber also wants to expand its platform to include other modes of transport. “Cars are to us what books are to Amazon,” Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said recently, adding that he could imagine Uber providing the entire transport network for a city by 2023. To that end, Uber plans to bring its electric bicycle rental service JUMP to Berlin by the end of the summer.

But it faces tough local competition from other bike-sharing providers and on the road in the form of Daimler’s mytaxi app and well-established car-sharing schemes. In March, Daimler and BMW merged their car-sharing units Car2Go and DriveNow to be able to offer an ecosystem for mobility services — a strategy targeted specifically at fending off the likes of Uber.

Franz Hubik covers renewable energy for Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf. Markus Fasse specializes in aviation and automobile industry news and works from Handelsblatt’s Munich office. To contact the authors: hubik@handelsblatt.com and fasse@handelsblatt.com

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