Israeli-founded Via gets $50m in funding from Mercedes-Benz

Via combines the ideas behind Israel's sherut vans with cab-hailing apps for a service that caught the eye of Mercedes.

Via co-founders Daniel Ramot and Oren Shoval with Volker Momhinweng, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans (photo credit: DAIMLER AG)
Via co-founders Daniel Ramot and Oren Shoval with Volker Momhinweng, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans
(photo credit: DAIMLER AG)
German automobile giant Daimler AG announced on Wednesday that it will invest $50 million in a joint venture with the Israeli-founded, ride-sharing start-up Via to offer on-demand shuttle service across Europe.
Modeled on Israel’s iconic sherut shared taxis – vans that ferry passengers across the country – Via upgrades the experience by allowing a person to order a ride on a carpooling shuttle via a smartphone application.
For the joint venture, Via will work with the Mercedes-Benz division in Amsterdam, and its shared rides will start in London by the end of this year.
The Daimler investment comes on the heels of another fund-raising round for Via, with the company having raised between $180m. and $220m. in additional recent funding, according to sources in the market who spoke with The Jerusalem Post. Other Via investors include Israeli venture capital funds 83North and Pitango.
The global multi-billion-dollar ride-sharing market is rapidly expanding as millennial consumers living in cities shy away from car ownership, and smartphone applications make it much easier to be picked up and dropped off. The best-known provider is Uber, which is officially valued at $70 billion.
“The way people are moving in cities is changing and now people want to consume transportation on the phone,” Via’s chief technology officer Oren Shoval told the Post. “You could either buy a car and use it every day or use a bus. In many cities, using a bus is very affordable but very inconvenient. Now, you see how technologies are entering and it’s offering consumers a spectrum of options, with new types of on-demand mobility now possible.”
Via’s smart-routing algorithm matches a rider with a driver based on the pick-up location and the drop-off destination.
That ride can take the form of a taxi or public transit, allowing the app to be more competitive price-wise than private taxi services on command.
And the Via stop can fluctuate based on demand and driving conditions, with users being asked to walk another block or two from where they expected in order to save everyone’s time. In other words, the company is shifting mass transit away from a predictable system of rigid routes and toward a more efficient, on-demand network.
“The pick-up spots, the dropoff spots, the scheduling, it’s all dynamic. In real-time we can make it more efficient and we’ll pick up and drop you off at a different location, for let’s say to avoid a traffic jam,” Shoval said.
The carpooling company was founded in 2012 by two Israelis, CEO Daniel Ramot and Shoval, who had connected while serving in the Israel Air Force. In 2013, the app first launched services in New York. That is where the company is headquartered, while its engineering and R&D office is in Tel Aviv.
Daimler isn’t the first German company to invest in Israeli automobile technology.
Last year, industry behemoth Volkswagen invested $300m.
in Gett, whose ubiquitous yellow sign can be found on any registered taxi in Israel. Gett allows people to order a taxi on command through the smartphone application.
Via is already active in limited areas of New York, Washington and Chicago, with a reported 1 million rides a month. Its on-demand transit software is being licensed to public transit operators in a number of cities, from running a minibus service in Austin, Texas, to partnering with a Parisian mass transit agency.
With Daimler and Via’s joint venture, the two companies seek to work with European public transit agencies in offering on-demand shared rides, along with eventually designing and operating a fleet of mini-taxis, according to a Daimler representative.
Moving forward, the company sees its future in driverless vehicles, which could work in tandem with ride-sharing apps.
“We’ve already started to field test on driverless technology.
And we have an operating system that could be also be adopted to an autonomous driving management system.
That’s the future and we’re getting ready for it,” Shoval said.