Susanne Hahn and Dieter Feder are visionary heads from Lab1886. In this interview, they explain why the presence of Greta Thunberg would be an enrichment for the Lab, for whom the ridesharing concept flinc would be especially suitable, and how they develop and promote good ideas.
Ms. Hahn and Mr. Feder, how did you get to your workplace today?
FEDER: By car.
HAHN: So did I. But today I would have preferred the air taxi Volocopter. So, I could have flown over the traffic jam on my way to work (laughs).
When was the last time you took advantage of a ridesharing opportunity or gave someone a ride?
FEDER: During the pilot phase, I tested our ridesharing app flinc, which we launched here at Lab1886. At the moment, flinc is aimed at Daimler employees who commute, so of course I wanted to see for myself what kind of experiences users are having with our product.
HAHN: I have a passenger almost every day, but he is just four years old. My son shares the car with me every morning. Admittedly, this isn't a typical ride, but I'm not the target group either.
HAHN: My calendar is usually full of appointments in various locations. If I had to find a suitable ridesharing opportunity for every trip, I’d really have my hands full. Instead, we’re trying to make mobility in general more sustainable and to establish long-term carpools. With flinc, we reach a very large target group alone with our employees and can contribute to reducing the number of road kilometres driven.
How much CO2 have Daimler employees avoided through ridesharing?
FEDER: Since the end of February this year, employees in Sindelfingen have avoided around 2.4 million road kilometers by carpooling with the flinc App so far and have made a contribution to reducing emissions in the region – we estimate about 540 tons of CO2. They have avoided as much CO2 as 275 four-person households generate with their electricity consumption over the same period. The forecast for the rest of the year is that our colleagues will save more than 800 tons of CO2 through flinc!
HAHN: There you can see what we can achieve with just one pilot, at one location in one company! Our plant Sindelfingen has supported us very well. If you tackle it together, then the results will come.
What makes flinc different from other ridesharing platforms?
FEDER: Many ridesharing sites focus on the people who are looking for rides, and that may require drivers to make long detours. In my case, an app took me on a route that included the Neckartor — and if you know Stuttgart, you’ll know what that means. Normally, I try to avoid the congestion that always forms there. We wanted to change that. Basically, flinc is a platform for our colleagues to get to know one another. We bring together people who drive similar routes at similar times, and thus we gradually create commuter networks. This is how we’re changing the way we deal with mobility over the long term.
How is Daimler benefiting from flinc?
HAHN: The main aim of flinc is to reduce the volume of commuter traffic by creating ridesharing opportunities, and thus to help reduce CO2 emissions. There are already companies that show interest in flinc and are willing to invest money. It’s a key indicator as to whether our idea will get off the ground or not.
FEDER: Incidentally, we have gained the interest of several external companies, including a group of companies with around 6,000 employees, without advertising.
HAHN: If we manage to get several companies, for example in the Stuttgart region alone, enthusiastic about our platform, then together we can really make a difference. At Lab1886, we have set ourselves the principle of creating win-win situations in which every partner benefits: In this case the individual, the carpool, the city with less traffic and less emissions and of course the company that uses flinc. Everyone wins and this ensures sustainable business models - in a two-fold sense.
What benefits do the driver and the ride sharers receive in addition to the travel costs they’ve saved and the good feeling they get from knowing that they’re generating less CO2?
FEDER: For example, employees can improve their network by sharing driving situations. You get to know many new people and receive information you haven’t had before. In the pilot project, there were also incentives for commuters to support the initiative to try something new. For example, fuel cards.
HAHN: Reserved parking spaces for carpools are also extremely popular. The plant in Sindelfingen already has them. For drivers, it’s a daily problem to find a parking space in the city or on a factory site. So it’s a huge advantage for a flinc user to be allowed to park his or her car in the first row, or to be able to find an empty parking space at all if he or she starts work later in the day.
FEDER: That’s why we want to increase the number of reserved flinc parking spaces at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen from 500 to about 850. Our broader goal is to also offer flinc at other Daimler locations. This year we want to expand flinc to the Mercedes-Benz plant in Rastatt and the AMG facility in Affalterbach.
HAHN: Another advantage of our system compared to those of other suppliers is that it’s safer. The users can drive to work with their colleagues.
Have you yourself had any encounters with fellow passengers that stuck in your memory?
FEDER: My anecdote comes from the test phase of flinc, and it was rather mixed. One of my ride sharers was a woman who accidentally dropped her handbag inside my car. I thought she had put everything back in her purse before she left the car. On the following day I gave my girlfriend a ride. As she got out, she saw something that looked like a pen. It turned out to be an eyeliner pencil. She picked it up, looked at it, and was quite annoyed for a while. But ridesharing doesn’t always have repercussions like that one (laughter).
The flinc app is part of the f.l.o.w. initiative, which you have launched. What exactly is f.l.o.w.?
HAHN: f.l.o.w. is an initiative that we started at Lab1886 together with colleagues from External Affairs, the factory planning unit, and the Works Council. f.l.o.w. combines and develops traffic-easing products and services from the areas of mobility and NewWork for our workforce. Through f.l.o.w., every one of our colleagues can already support our Ambition 2039 project and shrink the Daimler group’s carbon footprint.
FEDER: Through these measures we want to help traffic flow more smoothly — in other words, create a better flow on the roads while avoiding road kilometres and CO2.
Ms. Hahn, you’ve been Director Lab1886 Global for three years now. What does your daily work look like?
HAHN: I have the good fortune of being able to deal with the future and with new ideas every day through my work. Our goal is to create sustainable value for Daimler. This means concentrating on the right ideas and commercializing them with both internal and external partners. Establishing a profitable and sustainable business model from an initial idea is not easy and from my point of view it is a supreme entrepreneurial discipline that constantly poses new challenges. The learning curve is always great for all employees, there is no "daily business", so to speak.
If Greta Thunberg were to apply for a job at the Lab, would you hire her?
HAHN: Yes, I’d hire her immediately. Greta Thunberg impresses me. She is committed to something she is convinced of. She is enormously credible and authentic. That gives her respect and, above all, it makes an impact!
Have the two of you ever had doubts about whether you could produce enough fresh ideas?
HAHN: No, that’s no longer the case. In the beginning there was a phase when things were different for a short period of time. At that point we combed through our project portfolio and kept only six projects out of the initial total of 25. As a result, the idea development process at our Lab was completely revamped and professionalized. We were able to build up our current project portfolio through numerous new ideas, on which we also work with external partners and top universities such as Harvard and MIT.
Ideas are always teamwork with us. The impact of different perspectives is particularly relevant here.
FEDER: Moreover, we need risk takers rather than people who are always hedging their bets. We believe in an entrepreneurial spirit and the power of imagination, and it can’t hurt to be very familiar with our value chain. When these qualities are combined and there’s a spirit of cooperation, ideas are born.
What invention will have the strongest influence in our future mobility?
FEDER: In think it will be the Volocopter. This flying taxi will enable us to open up the aerial infrastructure as a whole new dimension of urban mobility. But social issues such as the discussion about the carbon footprint or ideas of NewWork will also transform mobility. In cities it’s often the case that the streets are congested, the parking spaces are fully occupied, and the people sitting in their cars are frustrated. In Stuttgart alone, the average driver is stuck in traffic for more than 100 hours per year. Just think of how people sometimes rush to the checkout lane in the supermarket just to be one minute faster than the other shoppers. Standing in traffic for 20 minutes per day is a lot more than that. We have to keep working in order to change this situation.
Greta sailed across the Atlantic instead of flying. What new mobility concepts will you be trying out next?
HAHN: We’re already planning a specific project: “Vision Smart City,” which will be held on September 14 and 15, 2019. At the Mercedes-Benz Museum, we will be presenting the first urban flight of our Volocopter air taxi, as well as many other innovations. I’ll be testing the Volocopter! At this event, everyone can get a great impression of how we envision the mobility of the future.
Lab1886 is an independent innovation laboratory within Daimler AG. With its innovations, Lab1886 is helping Daimler AG to ensure a sustainable and profitable future. The aim is to move quickly from an idea to a product or a business model. The projects go through three successive phases: ideation, incubation, and commercialization. Within this free space, our colleagues work within flat hierarchies and in a creative atmosphere. The laboratory operates in four innovation hotspots all over the world: Stuttgart, Berlin, Beijing, and Atlanta.