Car Share

Taxi Web Service Uber, Despite Cabbie Resistance, Sees Smooth Ride in Germany

Taxis in Berlin waiting for customers, Source dpa
Taxis in Berlin waiting for customers.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Car sharing is already a success story in the app economy. Uber is a potential game changer for traditional taxi and chauffeur services as well as private car owners.

  • Facts


    • Legal hurdles and angry protests confront Uber as it seeks a share of a €4 billion market.
    • Mr. Nestmann insists the company is only offering a technological platform to serve customers.
    • The launch of Uber in Munich has created less conflict than in Berlin and Hamburg.
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Fabien Nestmann has his own view of the world.

The general manager of Uber Germany has read the unpleasant headlines: Taxi drivers in Berlin purposefully create traffic jams to protest his company, Hamburg has filed an injunction prohibiting the car-sharing service from operating there under a threat of a €1,000 ($1,300 ) fine per case and the German Underwriters Association has warned drivers they face significant risks when they solicit passengers using the company’s smartphone application.

But Mr. Nestmann prefers to talk about his recent experience as a customer of Uber. An Opel Corsa picked him up on the street in Frankfurt and dropped him off at his destination. Everything about the experience, he said, was marvelous. The driver was friendly and the service was great, so naturally, he wants to expand the company’s reach within Germany.

The problem for Mr. Nestmann and Uber is that others don’t see him or the company in such a positive light. He’s the bogeyman of taxi drivers, who see Uber as a dire threat to their profession and are organizing protests against the U.S.-based company. The legal issue of using private, unregulated vehicles to transport customers in the cities remains unclear. And the stakes are high for all parties as they pursue a market estimated at €4 billion ($5.35 billion) per year.

Uber, whose investors include Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. and Google, Inc., offers everything from cars driven by private owners to chauffeur-driven vehicles, all of which can be ordered through a smartphone application. Up to 20 percent of the fare goes to Uber, which is now operating in Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich and, perhaps, Hamburg. The company plans to expand to Düsseldorf, Cologne and Stuttgart in the near future.

Uber is more like a one of the creative destroyers that crowd out older, more established top dogs to profit from the new.

While Mr. Nestmann is often demonized by his critics, the 34-year old actually makes a rather tame impression with his three-day beard stubble and a shock of blond hair. He insists Uber is not in competition with taxis, but rather is a technological platform designed to help consumers. His sentences begining with “we” rather than “I” and he is careful not to utter a single word of provocation. He bathes his statements in comfortable and reassuring words, seeking to emulate other Silicon Valley giants like Google and Amazon, who advertise with slogans such as “Don’t be evil” and “We want to improve people’s lives.”

“We find ourselves in an innovative environment and are happy to have initiated a dialogue with all those involved,” he said. “We are working daily to establish Uber as a viable alternative, but we are certainly not free of error.”

The American economist Jeremy Rifkin, who recently authored “The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism,” says about companies such as Uber that offer platforms for exchanging goods and services “(This) opens up new possibilities for reconceptualizing both the social contract and the meaning of work in the coming era,” he said. He predicts this eventually will replace capitalism.

Uber Technologies Inc. is certainly not opposed to capitalism. The company is more like one of the creative destroyers that crowd out older, more established top dogs to profit from the new. Mr. Nestmann, who previously worked for Identive Group, has mastered the language and mentality of the Silicon Valley culture. While sharing nice words about quality and desiring a good relationship with drivers, customers, and everyone in general, he also said, “The legal framework certainly needs an updating.” This statement suggests Uber would like see current laws changed, rather than changing its business plan to meet all legal requirements.

“We are working daily to establish Uber as a viable alternative, but we are certainly not free of error.”

Fabien Nestmann, Uber general manager

So Mr. Nestmann has become the charming voice in Germany helping the American company founded in 2009 by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp in its campaign of conquest. Uber is quickly attracting so many customers that its appeal to consumers is crystal clear. The assault tactics are fomenting a revolution.

Nonetheless, local authorities want to prevent this from happening. Not only is Hamburg suing Uber, but a spokesperson for Düsseldorf said that city also will put up a fight. “Should Uber offer its usual service here, “ the spokesperson said, “We see the same problems as other cities and will take actions against it.”

Mr. Nestmann is unconcerned, saying, “Uber will only then be a success when everyone involved sees the service as being useful.”

He’s made good progress traveling this road. Not only is he one of the types who can smile away criticism, but business-wise, things are running smoothly, particularly in his home base of Munich, where Mr. Nestmann oversees the Uber operations. There was little of the turmoil in Munich that has been seen in Berlin and Hamburg and Uber has seen “thousands of registrations,” he said.

As uninhibited as the name-calling and the insults of the competition have been, Mr. Nestmann says he still uses their services. Just recently, he said, he chauffeured his mother in a Smart from the car-sharing provider Car2go. Now, the question is whether he’ll have to get more familiar with using the competition because the resistance to his company in Germany has become too great. He clearly believes the answer is no.

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