Why Mercedes-Benz wants to suburbanize the sharing economy

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Why Mercedes-Benz wants to suburbanize the sharing economy
Why Mercedes-Benz wants to suburbanize the sharing economy
The Silicon Valley headquarters of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America

The Silicon Valley research arm of luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz isn’t ready to bet the company’s future on futuristic visions of on-demand electric pod cars buzzing around busy urban areas.

Sure, the United Nations estimates that as many as 2.5 billion more people could live in cities by 2050. And some analysts predict that rapidly evolving mobility-as-a-service offerings may help carsharing or ridesharing companies, such as Zipcar and Uber, erode the market share of large automakers.

But Mercedes contends that even forces as unsettling to incumbent businesses as the sharing economy won’t supplant individual car ownership — especially in the burbs.

“There definitely is a trend to sharing,” Arwed Niestroj, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America (MBRDNA), told GreenBiz in an interview this spring. “We don’t see that replacing personal cars.”

The company is counting on suburbanites to both bolster sales of personal luxury cars and pad the revenue streams of emerging mobility service offerings, like on-demand shuttles for commuting or child transportation.

“Ninety-four percent of all U.S. population growth is in suburban areas,” said Fred Kim, society and technology research group manager for MBRDNA.

Kim was one of several speakers yesterday at a 20th anniversary celebration for MBRDNA, the R&D-focused subsidiary of Mercedes parent company Daimler AG. The event was held at the company’s 70,000-square-foot combination office and high-tech garage space — a recent upgrade from smaller spaces occupied in the region over the previous 18 years. […]

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