Volkswagen and Europcar, something was there before. Until 2006, the rental company belonged to a car company, now it’s back. Does the network of over 2,700 stations fit in with the new traffic models?
Volkswagen wants to make Europcar the heart of its mobility services platform. After a long period of preparation and some delays in the takeover process, the group unveiled its French owner’s installation strategy on Tuesday.
More than 2,700 Europcar branches and stations in over 140 countries are dedicated to helping you combine offers, from car sharing to car rentals and car subscriptions. The responsible VW finance department wants to integrate this into its operations with leasing and car loans.
The European Commission has given the green light
In addition, fully automated driving will play a role in the “mobility platform” in the medium term, especially in shuttle services. For this, however, significant advances in software and electronics development are likely to be required. And in Wolfsburg, there was a lot of confusion about the in-house subsidiary IT Cariad.
VW was previously the main owner of Europcar, in 2006 their paths parted. A good year ago, the CEO of Herbert Diess called the buy-back idea part of “an integrated range of services covering everything to do with cars.” The company’s own fleet services and so far rather modest car sharing should also be connected with the French.
At the end of May, the European Commission approved the takeover by VW and its partners Atestor and Pon Holdings. The remaining minority shareholders of Europcar will receive an offer to sell their shares. The company employs about 10,000. employees is to be liquidated from the stock exchange.
First of all, “all mobility services will be centralized on the new platform,” announced Volkswagen. This included access to multiple offers via the app and “a shared fleet of vehicles that includes all of these services”. In 2021, Europcar had approximately 232,000 cars in stock – this number is expected to increase significantly soon.
VW tests the ID.Buzz electric bus
The underlying premise is to follow the trend from buying a car to using a car across all channels and brands. At the end of this year and the beginning of next year, the first linked systems will be put into operation in Vienna and Hamburg. If highly automated driving features are likely to be available in a few years, they will be added in stages. They should optimize platform performance “because vehicles can be automatically moved between different locations when needed,” he said.
VW is already testing several autonomous models, for example with the ID.Buzz electric bus, and the Moia shuttle branch should also benefit from this technology when fully put into operation. However, it will be some time before the start of serial production. The first commercial service of this type in Europe is to be launched in 2025.
Diess justified the change of heart towards Europcar with market potential, which by 2030 involves trillions of car services and new software functions. “The acquisition will allow us to significantly expand our fleet and provide us with unique customer contact points,” he told VW employees recently. Europcar is present in many countries in city centers, as well as at train stations and airports. “Europcar and the move to autonomous robo-shuttles make it cost-effective to offer all-inclusive applications.”
Huge amounts of data
VW Chief Financial Officer Christian Dahlheim now added: “Consumers have two basic needs: getting from A to B and meeting their mobility needs where they live. We believe we can combine it on one platform. “
However, fully automatic – or one day completely autonomous – driving will only be possible if the car’s control and information systems can process enormous amounts of data. In addition, the criterion will be regular, quick feature updates and affordable high-performance computers. When it came to the division of tasks between brands like VW, Audi and Porsche, coordination at times got stuck.
“The platform needs to be easily updated, frequently and with little customer interaction,” said Alf Pollex, head of the Automotive Central Information System Development Network, which is one of the core requirements. This is also one of the reasons why an entire software project takes time. Currently, Audi and Porsche are continuing their parallel work on autonomous driving. The software development phase of version 2.0 should be available from the middle of the decade, according to Diess, “then it will bring all the changes together.”
Enlarged development team
According to Pollex, it is a complex conversion of electronics. In older, decentralized systems, “until now, individual updates were made in individual control units”. With increasing automation and networking, centralized computer and software architectures would be necessary. It also allows updates to be made in larger blocks. Moreover, only a mature 2.0 unit system can ensure that all types of cars can be equipped with it at competitive prices.
Cariad currently employs approximately 5,000 developers. “We will gradually expand the team,” said Pollex. Despite the tendency to increase in-house, suppliers still play an important role: “Various discussions are underway”. So far, cooperation with Bosch has been limited to extensive assistance systems (level 2) and automated driving on the highway (level 3). “However, partners agreed to explore possible common development goals and timetables towards fully automated driving (level 4”). (dpa)