BMW’s Bernhard Blattel on New York City as a Hub of Mobility Services

5/3/11Follow @arleneweintraub

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take a strong view of the customer that does not have a car, but that lives in a big city and has a desire for mobility.

We think that also presents a much broader possible customer base. If you look at BMW, at the moment, our whole group sells 1.4 million cars a year. This number will of course grow, but that’s our current customer base. However if you look at all possible customers that deal with mobility questions in big cities, that number could be 10 or 20 times higher than we have now as actual BMW car customers. That’s one reason why we want to look definitively at services outside the car.

The other reason is that we are convinced that for the success of mobility services in the future, we have to provide platforms that are independent from the means of transportation.

X: You put out a call for business plans on BWM i Venture’s website. What are you looking for, and how has the response been?

BB: We have defined a framework. It consists of several fields that are of interest to us. One is city information in general. Another one is intermodal traffic solutions, which means giving people services to get them to point A or B however they’d like—driving, or car-sharing, or maybe walking. The third field is parking. The fourth field is smart navigation. And we’re also interested in car sharing. We’ve had a lot of responses. We’ve received more than 50 business plans so far.

X: What’s the vision for BMW’s New York incubator?

BB: The idea is not only to provide office space for startups, but also to help them with networking. And we can fertilize different combinations—products and services that might work together. MyCityWay, for example, could be a great basis to integrate with other services. We can also help companies with business plans, marketing, and communication. These are all things we can bring to the table as an investment partner.

X: Why New York?

BB: We’re convinced it’s the best place because of the support of the city. It’s a place where you can try out a mobility service. But we will be looking at companies all over the world, as well. We have a network of offices in Palo Alto, Tokyo, and China. We will use this network to support our investments.

X: How does this differ from corporate venture funds set up by other car companies?

BB: What we know from most other approaches is that they’re taking more of a workbench approach, investing in new technologies that can be engineered to go into cars. What we think is different in our case is we’re really focusing on mobility services—not on technology for cars. We’re looking at services in a more general way.

We will use every reasonable opportunity to link these services also to our cars. But our mindset and screening process starts with services that are not immediately related to cars.

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