Gerhard Künne heads the Mobility Unit at Volkswagen Financial Services. In the following interview, he tells us which business fields he has in his sights and why.
Corporate Communications: Mr. Künne, the term New Mobility sounds futuristic, but the offers it has produced in the past have been diverse and various in nature. How does the Mobility Unit define its task and what are the fields it is involved in?
Künne: The topic of New Mobility has been the subject of active consideration within the Volkswagen Group for several years. At Volkswagen Financial Services we already specified this business field as a specific area of action in our "WIR2018" strategy. During the past few years, we've taken over or invested in a large number of companies operating in the so-called New Mobility business segments. The Mobility Unit bundles the various business models of these individual companies under one roof. The goal is to provide products that are useful to customers while they drive their cars or that extend mobility over and beyond the car itself. Parking, for example, used to be a necessary evil, but today we can successfully map and display the procedure as a digital process and deliver it to the customer via an app. Electromobility is a another dynamic field. When it comes to charging a vehicle, other features will be important in addition to how the process functions and how it's billed – using an app to find a vacant charging station, for example, and maybe the ability to check online whether the station is currently operational. That shows the direction we need to take: thinking about customer services from the customer's standpoint and making them digitally available.
Corporate Communications: Parking, charging, refueling – those are services already successfully provided by Volkswagen Financial Services.
Künne: The Mobility Unit will, of course, be drawing on all previously gained experience. We are, however, changing the strategic approach. We looked at our car sharing pilot and found that we weren't dynamic enough or responsive enough to customer needs with our large-scale structures. So we sought out a partner like Greenwheels that continuously works on the service idea with lean structures, like a start-up does. That's how we intend to make innovations in mobility areas possible in future. We won't develop everything ourselves, but we'll be involving enterprises that have development in their genetic makeup.
We won't develop everything ourselves.
Corporate Communications: Volkswagen Financial Services already have two parking providers with their own brands. Volkswagen has initially established an umbrella brand under the name MOIA. Do such independent brands pay enough attention to customer loyalty?
Künne: We want to exploit several sales channels. The car, the dealer organization, the Volkswagen Financial Services companies and the direct sales channel provided by the mobility companies will all be important for business model success. What's important is that our Mobility Unit will be developing what are relatively young mobility companies into international competence centers for their particular business models. The idea is that these companies thus develop their own enterprise culture further. In the parking segment, market penetration will continue to be driven by our "PayByPhone" subsidiary in Vancouver and by sunhill technologies in Erlangen. As regards market regions and product development, on the other hand, we are coordinating our paths. This is exactly where one of the key responsibilities of the Mobility Unit lies.
Corporate Communications: If you're tending towards developing new ideas through investments in other companies – to what extent is the Mobility Unit a workshop for innovation at all?
Künne: Together with its mobility companies, the Mobility Unit will also be an inventor's workshop. We are currently elaborating our Truck Parking business model with a number of innovative services. We acquired Truck Parking Europe so as to expand this line of business. Courage and entrepreneurial spirit are the guiding principles for ideas and projects. We'll be testing business models in the market before they're fully complete down to the last conceivable detail, and anything that customers don't accept will be cancelled before huge amounts of costs are incurred. We want to move faster in future and make the transfer of traditional business models easier.
Courage and entrepreneurial spirit are the guiding principles for ideas and projects.
Corporate Communications: Self-driving digital ecosystems like the "Self-Driving Car" Sedric redesign existing mobility models by integrating numerous environmental conditions relating to traffic and the urban area. Will the Mobility Unit also be dealing with such issues?
Künne: Driverless systems like so-called robo-taxis or similar autonomous offers, networked with the available public transport modes, are certain to catch on in urban areas in future. But even on the outskirts of cities things could look quite different. And in small towns and rural areas individual private transport will be around for a long time to come. It's also relatively safe to say that concepts designed for metropolitan areas are probably unsuitable for driving to one's holiday destination. This, in turn, opens up new opportunities for rental and sharing models. And even if you want to use a system like Sedric, you'll have to pay for it in some way or other, and that's where we come in with our payment solution. Unless, of course, the supermarket you're heading for will be paying for the trip.
Corporate Communications: Without individual transport there wouldn't be a market for services anymore. Sedric doesn't need anyone to rent it a parking space.
Künne: The challenge undoubtedly lies in the linking of meaningful offers. One example is reserving a parking space on the outskirts of the city in combination with a booking to enable the seamless continuation of my trip into the city using an autonomous vehicle. This can also work in the opposite, outward direction when, for instance, I've booked a rental car for me to pick up at the edge of the city. I can envisage combined products that we want to reflect in end-to-end business models at many different sites and locations.
Corporate Communications: Mr Künne, thank you very much for the interview.