Londoners will soon be able to use a popular US vehicle-sharing service to hitch rides in Mercedes-Benz vans after the German automobile manufacturer unveiled a new tie-up with the Via app.
Via, which operates in several US cities and is starting up in London, seeks to allow customers to make shared trips without lengthy detours.
The automobile maker is investing $50m into a joint venture with Via, in its first foray into ride sharing. Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’ parent company, becomes a strategic investor in Via.
Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, said: “The benefits are obvious: Via frees up the streets, reduces emissions and eases the traffic in general. For customers, it will be an efficient and affordable way to use public transport.”
Many carmakers are taking bets on ride-sharing strategies as a way of tapping into potential new streams of revenue and take a foothold in a business that may one day replace individual car ownership in city centres.
Goldman Sachs has forecast that the global ride-hailing market may grow to be worth $285bn by 2030, dwarfing the taxi industry that is currently valued by the US investment bank at $108bn. While Uber is the best known company, other groups are springing up and partnering with carmakers.
Volkswagen has launched the MOIA brand, which will begin operating electric minibus ride-sharing services in European cities, and has also invested in Gett, a taxi-hailing app. VW expects to generate a significant portion of its profits from new transport services within a decade.
Ford has launched the Chariot service, using minibuses to run along fixed routes. The US automobile manufacturer has said that its self-driving robot-taxis, which the company is developing and intends to press into service from 2021, will deliver both people and goods, indicating it will use an adapted version of the Ford Transit van.
Mercedes-Benz makes commercial vehicles of a similar size to the Ford Transit.
Via’s technology is already used for more than 1m rides per month combined in New York, Chicago and Washington D.C.
Many carmakers have partnered with ride-booking groups as a way of sharing technology and also to put them ahead in the queue to sell their vehicles into the car fleets operated by the groups.
Both General Motors and Jaguar Land Rover have invested in Lyft, the US rival to Uber, while Toyota and Honda have put money into Grab, the Southeast Asian ride hailing company that also counts China’s Didi Chuxing as an investor.