Cities fascinate people - and attract them more and more. More than half of the world’s population already lives in cities. By 2050, this is expected to rise by about 2.5 billion. As these numbers rise, the need to rethink mobility in confined spaces is growing. But what interest does Daimler have in reducing individual mobility in urban areas? Axel Harries and Daniel Deparis are responsible for Urban Mobility Solutions at Mercedes-Benz. Their mission: to understand people’s individual needs and reinvent mobility in close cooperation with cities.
Mr. Harries, Mr. Deparis, what makes life in the city desirable?
Harries: People live in cities because they work there. But cities also offer a wide range of entertainment and leisure activities, an enormous selection of shops and restaurants, the freedom to make spontaneous decisions and do whatever you feel like doing – that’s what makes it so appealing for many people.
Deparis: That’s why it is so important to “give back” cities to the people, to create living spaces that are not dictated by traffic. Many cities are already working on offering alternatives by converting built-up areas such as parking spaces into footpaths, cycle paths or green spaces. Actions like these are what characterize a modern city – and make it worth living in.
Now, as an automobile manufacturer, we earn our money primarily by selling vehicles. Surely the car-free city of the future cannot be in our interest?
Harries: Our interest is to make a significant contribution to a better future. That might sound very idealistic at first. But our contribution to society is becoming increasingly important. For us, this is also a form of good corporate citizenship. We are not indifferent to what the cities of tomorrow will look like and how people will move around there. We want to make an active contribution here because we believe that there is the best mobility solution in every context, sometimes it is the car, sometimes the bicycle. And beyond the social aspect, Urban Mobility Solutions is also a potential sales channel for the future. Our work is already now, in the research stage, actively requested by several cities and regions. It has market value and added value. This shows that we are on the right track. We are very pleased about that!
Deparis: We're talking about corporate shared value - a concept that has been around for years. It is imperative that we move away from the idea that profitable business and social added value are mutually exclusive. On the contrary: Only when both come together can we talk about a sustainable business model.
And what does this business model look like in concrete terms?
Harries: It’s very simple: In the traditional sales business, we sell our vehicles to our customers. The business with cities goes far beyond that. Here, the focus is on the mobility program with a region or a city. Perhaps we also sell our vehicles within this framework – but it is not the sole purpose of our business. Our colleagues at Urban Mobility Solutions are not salesmen; they position themselves as advisors and supporters of a city, working together to find solutions.
How have you positioned yourself as a team?
Harries: We deliberately formed a very diverse, cross-functional team – the members come from different countries and areas of the Group and bring with them very individual experience and a broad-based basic knowledge. We have given the team every freedom to exchange ideas with cities, authorities and industry representatives. Because we want to reinvent mobility and drive forward solutions together with them. And the approach seems to work: Meanwhile, cities are proactively asking us for help.
What strategy do you follow when you enter into a mobility pact with a city?
Deparis: We have divided our portfolio into three categories: In the first pillar, Vehicle Cityzation, we deal with our vehicles, asking the question: “How can we adapt our products to the needs of cities and citizens?” The second pillar, Data Driven Mobility, is all about data. When we link our vehicle data with city data, we can make a major contribution to greater safety in urban traffic. With Urban Mobility Solutions, our third pillar, we are establishing specific solutions for individual districts. Here, we are looking for ways to improve connections and intelligently connect existing mobility solutions.
How does the cooperation with cities work?
Deparis: Before we act, we need to understand the needs of the city concerned. So we sit down together and ask questions like, What moves you? What does your city need? What are you already working on? What can we do for you? The needs always look similar: Cities want to be safer, more efficient, more sustainable and improve their access to mobility options. We then look at how we can provide support with the help of our products and the expertise available in the Group – and tackle specific projects. We work with the cities as if they were internal colleagues for the defined period. This remains the case from day one until the implementation of all jointly developed solutions.
For the city of the future, data acquisition will also become more important. How do we exchange ideas and opinions on this?
Deparis: Our assistance systems allow us to anonymously record how our vehicles behave. Here’s a concrete example: If ESP is used more frequently at certain points in a city, we know that something needs to be changed here. Our data is so valuable because it is very reliable. We offer a standard of quality here that smartphones and so on cannot match. On the part of the cities, we have access to data on infrastructure, traffic lights, accidents, etc. If we combine this with our data, we can draw shared conclusions. This is done both in real time, for example when vehicles “communicate” with traffic lights and prevent them from passing when they are red, and in the form of so-called predictive analytics. This means data from the past that reveals patterns to us, which we can use to make statements about the future.
Urban Mobility Solutions is also involved in the Rhine-Ruhr City 2032 project. Can you give us a little insight?
Harries: We are working here – together with many other players – on an economically and environmentally sustainable concept for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. By 2032, significant progress is to be made in the Rhine-Ruhr region on essential future topics such as connected mobility and digitization. What’s special about #RRC2032 is that it is not just one city that is going new ways. Several cities have joined forces – to intelligently connect the entire metropolitan region Rhine-Ruhr and Rhineland. We are involved in interaction between many partners who together are implementing exciting ideas, and are proud to be able to make our contribution to such a major project.
Can insights from this collaboration be transferred to other projects?
Harries: Definitely. That’s where we profit from our previous experience. Many people are talking about cities that are worth living in – but very few have already shown with specific projects that they can implement solutions. Short-term and efficient. For example, we were able to help a major European metropolis identify dangerous intersections and make them safer for pedestrians and other road users by specifically evaluating vehicle data. We can proudly and rightly say that we know what we are talking about. And the cities also perceive us as valuable partners. We were able to convince them that we don’t just sell cars, but also want to cooperate on other solutions.
What are your medium and long-term goals?
Harries: We have already achieved our first goal: The cities no longer see us as part of the problem, but as part of the solution. It’s important that we keep questioning ourselves and keep an eye on the latest developments. There’s so much happening in cities just now. So the team has to keep its finger on the pulse, “go out” into the world, and continue to educate itself systematically. For those cities that don’t do this on a daily basis, working with our team also creates real added value.
If I wanted to experience the city of the future today, where would you send me?
Deparis: The behavior of the citizens of a city will play a significant role in the future. London, for example, has already recognized this well. Not only are great products being used there and important rules being set. The city is also a pioneer in understanding people’s behavior and influencing it in a positive way. Singapore and Copenhagen – but also German cities like Hamburg and Stuttgart – are also very exciting examples.
Is there another topic on your mind?
Deparis: Sometimes we come across areas internally, more by chance, that have tools or data available that make our work with the cities much easier – and even open up new business opportunities. Many of our colleagues have already helped us along this path in a very unbureaucratic way. Our internal network is growing and growing. The dialog with colleagues from all kinds of departments and countries is becoming more and more part of our daily work. We are very grateful for this! Last but not least, the combined knowledge also offers huge added value to the cities that work with us.
... has headed the Urban Mobility Solutions division at Mercedes-Benz AG since 2019. Together with his team, he networks all the people within the company that are concerned with urban mobility and works on new products and solutions that contribute to improving the quality of life in cities.
... is responsible for Product Management Mercedes-Benz Cars and Sales Management MBC. Since the beginning of 2020, Urban Mobility Solutions has been within his area of responsibility in order to do justice to the strategic reorientation of sales towards cities, i.e. “business to metropolis.”