Daimler AG has decided to get into the car-sharing game with a sizeable investment in VIA. Via is a United States-based carpooling service that uses shuttle buses that offer a $5.00 flat rate. This company is making inroads in the competitive ride-sharing segment that’s been dominated by Uber and Lyft, whose drivers use their personal vehicles (predominately passenger cars) to move customers. VIA offers a different model that has already secured two rounds of funding that brought in $130 million from investment firms such as C4 Ventures, Hearst Ventures, and River Park.
While the valuation of the company was not released, it’s estimated that this new investment by Daimler will be the lead on a $250 million round which would peg the company’s new value in the $750 million range. It’s rumored that the total investment by Daimler’s Mercedes Benz unit will be in the $50 million range. VIA currently operates in Orange County, Austin, New York, and Chicago. The cash infusion is earmarked for European expansion, with London and Paris expected to be the company’s first targets.
Why is Daimler so interested in this company? Not only does the company’s consumer-focused efforts warrant attention, so too does its commercial unit, which focuses on selling its technology to other providers trying to build out their own real-time ride-sharing and carpooling systems. We suspect that Daimler can provide vehicles for the service and gain more sales opportunities. It can also use the service to expand its research and development efforts in the carpooling and ride-sharing vehicle segments. Lastly, it can drop in its own sensors and other technologies in some of these vehicles to acquire real-world test data for future production. The future sure looks like sharing a passenger van with a few fancy features.