"We need to be fast!"
Our CEO Ole Harms talks about the future of mobility, how the MOIA culture will differ from the mother company, and how he would pitch the project in an elevator.
When you move through a 21st-century city like London or Berlin, what really gets on your nerves?
I hate being stuck in traffic. Although I’m a totally urban guy, when I was recently sitting in a plane looking down on the glowing lights of London, I wondered why you would want to live down there. Not least from a mobility perspective, life in a modern metropolis can be quite inconvenient – loud, crowded, polluted, unsafe. Our market research shows us that everyone is fed up with these downsides of modern life.
Where do you see the main challenges?
On the one hand, you often have an ancient public transport system with certain limitations – passengers are confined to fixed routes and need to be at a station at a certain time. On the other hand, flexible, individual mobility is very expensive. Not everyone can afford a car, a taxi or one of the new ride-hailing services. The mobility solution I want as an urban citizen needs to be as time-efficient as possible and should be available exactly when and where I need it. And I don’t want to waste time deciding how to get from A to B. I just want to get there.
What needs to be done?
MOIA wants to transform mobility in urban centers throughout the world and offer new means of transportation for everybody. So we have to leverage the existing infrastructure and combine it with proven and new services and tools, such as intelligent algorithms, in order to increase efficiency and handle the increasing demand for mobility. As a car manufacturer we know how to build vehicles – regardless of how they will look in ten years. Bringing all this together, our vision is to offer integrated, efficient solutions that supplement public transport systems. If you like, this is our elevator pitch.
In what way will MOIA be different from existing new mobility solutions?
Our main differentiator is that we are focusing on human beings. We are fully aware of the available technology but want to put real people at the heart of everything we do. We understand that life is sometimes stressful and demanding, and want to make sure that transportation doesn’t cause people any more bother. And we want to work closely with existing public transport systems. That is our unique approach.
“With the right people on board you’ll always find the right solution. Adaptability is more important than technology.”
What factors will decide who succeeds?
In my view the market is at a very early stage. Now is the time to listen and to find the right partners. The most important factor is to attract smart people who want to change the world with us. We are working on a lot of ideas and not every solution will turn out the way we expected or meet our goals. But with the right people on board you will always find the right solution. Adaptability is more important than technology.
“We don’t want to be just another lab or testing field for our mother ship; we want to become one of the top three companies in the market by 2025.”
What is the new company's scope?
We don’t want to be just another lab or testing field for our corporate mother ship; we want to become one of the top three companies in the market by 2025. The demand for mobility will double in the next 30 years – and in emerging markets it will increase fourfold. To satisfy this need, we will need a variety of transport-on-demand services. The first major step is our ride-hailing engagement with GETT. In addition, we want to offer solutions like pooling that we design and shape. We want to get our services up and running in two European cities in 2017.
What is the advantage of setting up an independent company?
The mobility market is different from the traditional car manufacturing business. If you want to be successful, you have to play by the rules of the game. For example, we need to be fast. While automotive companies sometimes take several years to develop and launch a new model, we have to operate in a different time frame – a couple of weeks or less. Besides, we are operating in a different environment and with different processes and people. Our headquarters will be in Berlin, a city where the talent we need wants to work and live. And we will offer different benefits from traditional companies.
Sure, if you reach a certain level in the corporate world, you get a car from the corporate fleet. Instead of that, our executives will have a mobility budget they can spend as they like. We feel that everyone needs to be aware of the existing services, including our competitors’, and understand where we can improve things further.
In your office there’s a poster saying "Either you’re daring enough to disrupt yourself or someone else will."
Right from the beginning we considered ourselves to be the internal disrupters of the Volkswagen Group. Because things will change! So it’s better to adapt your company internally than for someone else to come and grab your future market share. MOIA is part of a great group and can only be successful if we enjoy the help of our parent and sister companies. In the end, this will be beneficial for all sides and ensure that we will have a sizable industrial footprint in years to come.
What talent does MOIA need to be successful?
We set up MOIA with an extremely small team inside the New Business Unit. This lean team was a major success factor and helped to reduce complexity. But it’s not only the number of people that counts; it’s their quality: If you have ten bright people, the sky’s the limit. But that said, we need the best engineers, the best developers, the best technologists. The most visionary minds. We need passionate people who can listen and understand the needs of the people out there – and transform those insights into daily action.
“What will drive change most are the severe challenges we face – challenges we can’t solve with existing structures and systems.”
In a way we’re still living in a 20th-century city. We have highways, subways, and sometimes trams and bikes. Will this change any time soon? And what will be the drivers of change?
The changes we saw in the last few years will be multiplied in the near future. Technologies like electric mobility, autonomous cars and data intelligence will enable services that were unthinkable in the past. But in my opinion, what will drive change most are the severe challenges we face, like pollution and traffic congestion – challenges we can’t solve with existing structures and systems. We have to do something. And we will!
The way we move from A to B has always determined the architecture of urban landscapes. In a way it’s a very political question: Who has access to what area?
Our main goal is to leverage the existing infrastructure and increase its efficiency. In Europe it takes years and costs hundreds of millions to build a kilometer of subway; we believe we can do much more with this kind of money and rewire the city. If we are successful, we will free up space for living. Ultimately, all our efforts are geared to this very objective – using cities in new and more enjoyable ways.
How will you ensure that people without much money, credit cards or smartphones are included?
To be very honest, it will be difficult to access some of our services without a smartphone. But since MOIA aims to be an integral part of the public transport network that should be available for everyone, we will try to implement alternative recognition services. For instance, texting is a common way to pay for goods and services in many emerging economies and NFC-enabled prepaid cards are another interesting option.
What technology has the most potential?
I believe that cars will be the basis of transportation for some years to come. But our idea of what a car looks like, how it behaves, and what it is capable of will certainly change. At MOIA we want to look into all new developments, and if the flying car emerges some day as a killer solution, that’s fine with me – as long as it is operated by MOIA! But let’s not get carried away by technology too much. Just because something seems feasible doesn’t mean we should do it without taking people’s emotional needs and skills into consideration.
How will people move through, say, Berlin in 2025?
By 2025 most transportation will be conducted by battery-powered vehicles – for sure. I expect a couple of decent autonomous fleets in cities around the world and very smart sharing concepts. Things will be different. And I hope for the better. But we probably won’t have flying cars.
41 years old, the MOIA CEO and a GETT board member. After working as a strategy consultant at Capgemini, he joined Volkswagen Consulting in 2008 as a senior adviser and sparring partner for Volkswagen’s top management. In 2012 he took over as Director New Business Models and Performance, directly reporting to the Board Member responsible for Sales & Marketing. For the two years up to January 2017 he was Executive Director and Head of New Business Models & Mobility Services. In this capacity he was responsible for establishing global partnerships with mobility providers such as Gett and cities like Hamburg. He lives in Hannover and Berlin.