The sun is beaming down on neat rows of houses. To the right and left, cars line the street. A young woman glances at her smartphone, grabs a package, walks down the stairs and heads to the street. She sees a gray vehicle approaching on her right. It slows and comes to a stop just a few feet away from her. The word “X-Shuttle” is clearly written on the car. This is the name of the new mobility service for commuters that the Volkswagen Group began testing a few weeks ago. The volunteer test subjects are 30 employees who live in Braunschweig and commute to Wolfsburg, which is located 40 kilometers away.
“In the past, I have frequently commuted alone in my car or formed a car pool with three colleagues,” says Wanda Wiera, the young woman with the package. “It worked out well. But, you know, the driver never offered me a cup of coffee.” Services like fresh coffee are some of the extras that the passengers of the X-Shuttle can enjoy. They can also drop off packages for the cooperation partner DHL or their dirty laundry at the dry cleaner. The clean clothes will be ready two days later. Right to the vehicle, too. This is what makes the program special: The X-Shuttle is something much more than a simple transportation service. It is really a test for the future direction of urban mobility – virtually a car pool of the future.
Wanda Wiera hands the package to the driver and takes a seat next to Daniel Lüdke, a colleague who was in the previous car pool. The vehicle passes by supermarkets and filling stations as it weaves its way through commuter traffic. Laptops are flipped open, e-mails read and weekend activities discussed. One commuter is asleep. The navigation system offers a word of advice after the group has traveled a few kilometers: You should avoid the highway today. The state road will be faster. “Oh, we’ll be taking the scenic route today,” Wanda Wiera says with a smile. “This is one of the great things about the X-Shuttle: You don't have to worry about the traffic problems and are more relaxed when you get to work.”
The car drives past green meadows and small forest areas. Daniel Lüdke leans back. “What I like about the X-Shuttle is its tremendous flexibility,” the construction engineer says. “I simply use an app to request the time I want to go to work in the morning and when I want to return home in the evening. I don't have to coordinate with my car pool members every day, and I still don't have to commute alone.”
With the help of the app that all of the commuters have installed on their smartphones, the users of the X-Shuttle service enter their desired pickup time and location. An algorithm uses the data to put together the optimal car pool and figures out the best-possible routes. “The app suggests a pickup time to me right after I submit the request,” Lüdke explains. “I can confirm it with a simple click. Later, I can track the X-Shuttle on my cell phone and find out exactly when it will arrive. As a result, I can perfectly use the time until it picks me up.”
The destination is just five minutes away now, and traffic has gotten heavier. Lüdke has an important appointment in 15 minutes. A final glance at the presentation. “When are you heading home?” he asks his fellow commuters. “Probably at 5:30,” Wanda Wiera says. The car turns left and heads to the office of the human resources specialist. When she gets back in the car this evening, she knows that driver will have a cup of coffee waiting for her. With milk and a little sugar. She will open her laptop and enjoy a conversation with her colleagues on the way home. “I’m really off work when the X-Shuttle arrives,” Wanda Wiera says.
During the workday, the X-Shuttle can also be booked for trips among company locations in Wolfsburg.
“We want to simplify people’s everyday lives”
With the X-Shuttle, the Volkswagen Group is conducting a pilot project to determine what urban-mobility services of the future should look like. An interview with Lars Heidenreich and Daniel Canis from the Digitization Division.
What exactly do you want to find out with this new transportation service?
Heidenreich: Right now, the Group is transforming itself from an automaker to a mobility provider. One aspect of this evolution is that we want to provide the large group of commuters with new intelligent solutions that they can use on their way to work to work. For this reason, we are developing services that will offer more quality time and comfort to people – at a reasonable price. Together with colleagues from the Group Future Centers and MOIA, we have intensely thought about the wishes and expectations that people would place on such services. Using the X-Shuttle, we are testing out how well our ideas work in the real world. We are gaining valuable experience that we can use to fine-tune the concepts.
What distinguishes the X-Shuttle from a conventional transportation service?
Canis: One key point is intelligent pooling: The commuter uses an app to specify the pickup time and location. An algorithm combines the commuters’ requests and creates optimal routes. As a result, we avoid taking detours and also reduce the driving time and costs. But X-Shuttle involves much more than perfect route planning. We also are learning about the additional services that passengers would like to use.
Which additional services are you testing?
Canis: We have stocked the vehicle to make the trip as pleasant as possible: with snacks and beverages, Wi-Fi and lots of room for individual passengers. We are using five remodeled Volkswagen Crafters, all of which have an aisle. The passengers are not seated really close to one another and they all have enough space of their own. We are also initially offering services that will save passengers time. They can do things like drop off their laundry or packages for DHL. Everybody is happy when they don’t have to take care of such tasks after work. We want to simplify people’s everyday lives.
How would you describe your initial experiences?
The service is quite popular, and the feedback from the commuters has been very positive. We will now test other services that we can integrate. This could include a transport service during the day as a way of optimally utilizing our vehicles. We also want to determine during the project how we can turn the X-Shuttle into a business model. After all, our goal is naturally: To earn money with our services.
Interview: Ralf Blasig