Hinrich J. Woebcken, former President and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America Inc., joined Bestmile’s advisory board in September 2019. He has worked in the automotive industry for more than 30 years in leading roles, including a 10-year tenure with BMW Group. He now is a partner at the investment firm Blue Lagoon Capital and also advises startups and private equity management for large enterprise transactions. He is an investor and sits on various boards of innovative mobility businesses.
You have had leadership roles with some of the world’s largest OEM automakers, what is your sense of their position in the new mobility landscape?
The new mobility landscape is still in its infancy. All of today’s mobility on-demand models, including taxi, ridehailing and sharing combined, only count for less than one percent of the total mobility miles. We all hear so many different projections of how much and in what time frame a change to traditional car ownership will happen. But even after years in, it’s still relatively small and hasn’t really affected traditional car sales too much. The game-changer will be the shift from human-driven on-demand models to autonomous ones. The cost per mile for the passenger will come down to present public transportation levels with at the same time an increase of individual mobility quality.
What will be the impact on car ownership?
Most car manufacturers have their own autonomous pilots and human-driven use cases on the road. But let’s say, with limited financial success. Driverless robotaxi deployments will come and they will have an impact on car ownership – but not at scale within this decade. This is different for the slower, controlled-speed autonomous shuttles that are starting to get deployed now. These driverless people movers for first- and last-mile solutions will come first – ‘slower comes faster’.
How do you see the autonomous ecosystem playing out in the near term?
We are going to see globally a strong deployment growth starting with AV services in geo-fenced areas in communities connecting residents, businesses and restaurants, for example. The deployed use cases are endless, from gated to car-banned communities. This people mover technology and deployments, with by the way interesting additional content revenue opportunities, will have penetrated the driverless mobility on-demand standard long before robotaxis are technically and legally ready at scale for mixed traffic.
You’re now advising startups and investors in the mobility business, are they a threat or complement to OEMs?
Of course a complement. But I see in two dimensions a challenge for car OEM’s, which on the flip side is an opportunity for fast, agile technology and software-based ventures. First, cars with self-driving technology stacks which are feasible and at scale for OEMs, will only come at the earliest in the next decade. Also, efficiently operating fleets – human-driven now and driverless in the future – is not their core competence. I am sure that there will be multiple attempts to acquire this business model competence also from the outside. But it’s a totally different business and we have seen in the past OEMs trying to run rental car businesses which in most cases got disinvested again. I believe this is a fair analogy.
What excites you about Bestmile that led to you joining the advisory board?
Joining Bestmile is exciting for me because its fleet orchestration technology enables the growth of human-driven and autonomous mobility on-demand, or Mobility as a Service, that is in front of us. It is great to be able to contribute with my “traditional” car industry background to this journey of this very talented and ambitious team.