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Is MOIA the Future of Volkswagen?

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author photo by Lindsay Martell February 2018

It may sound like a meditation mantra, but MOIA, pronounced "MOE-yah" may bring about a different kind of zen. As in, ease of getting around. MOIA is Volkswagen's new autonomous vehicle ride-sharing service that aims to provide mobility solutions -- including fleet-based commuter shuttles and on-demand transportation -- to change how we get from place to place.

The 100-percent electric car was unveiled in late 2017 at a TechCrunch event in Berlin, and Ole Harms, CEO of VW's MOIA, explained how MOIA is designed to provide maximally usable space for up to six passengers in roomy, individual seats (unlike traditional vans that have benches). It has USB ports and adjustable interior lighting, onboard Wi-Fi and storage for luggage in a rather unconventional spot -- in front, next to the driver -- freeing up more leg and passenger room for folks sitting in the back.

It boasts a 186-mile range and an impressive 30-minute span of time gives it an 80-percent charge, and it's blissfully quiet.

Fewer Cars, More Riders

It will make its official debut in service on roads beginning in Hamburg, Germany this year. Volkswagen expects to initially put about 200 cars on the road, with passengers able to input a departure point and destination via an app. According to TechCrunch, the app also features a built-in carpooling algorithm to group passengers on similar routes and maximize usage of the e-vans. In a sense, that makes the ride-sharing service almost like a virtual transportation hub that periodically stops to collect more passengers.

"We've set ourselves the goal of taking more than a million cars off the roads in Europe and the USA by 2025," said Harms.

Remarkably, Volkswagen was able to build the vehicle in just one year (it made its first appearance as a concept car at TechCrunch in London in 2016). The vehicle shown in Berlin has been built to scale and can actually drive.

Ultimately, MOIA is angling to put driver-free cars on the road. But for its first fleet of e-vans, Harms says it's not focusing on the autonomous component, but rather, the benefits of being all-electric.

Trains, Planes and Electric Vans

And while it will definitely give Uber and Lyft some competition, MOIA executives emphasized how the vans will not undercut public transportation.

"We are operating with full respect of the public system," Harms told TechCrunch at the event. "We don't want to get below the public transport system because then we would take people who are already pooled in a bigger vessel into a smaller one."

We've got to hand it to Volkswagen for leaping to front of the pack of automakers looking to launch their own ride-sharing services. A handful of carmakers, including Volvo and General Motors, plan to unveil their own similar service -- Volvo inked a deal with Uber, and GM with Lyft.

It'll be about 8 years before we see MOIA on the streets in the United States. As new partnerships -- and new technologies emerge -- we'll have to wait and see which companies will emerge as the ride-sharing leader down the road.

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Is MOIA the Future of Volkswagen? - Autotrader