Christoph Weigler can still get into a taxi without being recognized, even though for about a month now he has headed a company that has the reputation in Germany of being a taxi bugaboo.
“We never deserved this image,” Mr. Weigler insists. Of course he has to say that – as the new face of Uber in Germany, a market that is particularly difficult for the $68 billion company.
Whereas in New York and London, the word “Uber” has become to be synonymous with short trips around the city, the American company serves only a niche within a niche in Germany.
Only 10 percent of all rides in Germany are organized via a smartphone. Uber doesn’t release official figures on how many rides it provides but industry insiders are sure it is far from the leader in a market dominated by Daimler subsidiary Mytaxi and taxi dispatchers apps.
Uber currently offers its services only in Munich and Berlin. Foreign visitors already familiar with Uber make up a considerable share of its customers.
There is a history to German skepticism over Uber. The company’s biggest enemy here is its own image. In 2013, when the American firm was planning to expand internationally, Berlin was one of its first targets. Someone familiar with Uber says, “We thought we would encounter a city with a start-up culture, so we didn’t expect to have any problems.”
Instead they faced a notoriously understaffed municipal administration and highly networked taxi lobby that made life difficult for the new competitor.