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This German startup is waiting in the wings to drive revolution in India's mobility and urban transport sector

Eileen Trenkmann
30th Aug 2017
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Founded by a consortium of some of Germany’s big industry players, but driven and operated by a startup mentality, Adaptive City Mobility (ACM), based out of Munich, is geared to offer a complete, emission-free mobility concept for India’s cities.

In March 2017, Paul Leibold, Initiator and Project Leader of Adaptive City Mobility (ACM), pitched his solution to India's transport needs to more than 50 Indian investors, corporates, and accelerators in Bengaluru. It is the end of the second Indo-German startup bootcamp, which brought together startups from Germany and India that were trying to revolutionise the mobility and transport sector. Ten days of working on his business model and explaining his solution over and over again, it all comes to an end on this day. Paul is going back to Germany being awarded as the best German mobility startup of the bootcamp.

It is Paul's first time in India and the trip is fraught with challenges: after eight hours of being squeezed into an uncomfortable seat in economy class, he misses his flight to Kolkata. The Indian English was not too easy for him to comprehend either. But the tiredness and language problems do not stop him from doing back-to-back meetings. Paul has not come alone to India; he has brought along his financial advisor, Helmut Haimerl, with him. I am serious. This is not a fun trip for me. I want to enter the Indian market. I want to get to know investors, potential partners and I want to start tomorrow,” he adds.

Convincing people to climb on board

Five months later, Paul has talked to a dozen Indian investors and corporates like OLA founder Bhavish Aggarwal who even visited Paul in Germany or India’s biggest solar player ACME but is still searching for the right partners. “We have realised that many of the big players only come to see our solution to get inspired, but are actually too proud to partner with us and admit that a small startup like us may have developed a solution that could revolutionise the urban transport market. Additionally, when people see our website, they think, 'wow, so many big industry players are on board for this project, they don’t need finance'. But this is not the truth,” Paul explains.

The investor reactions are positive. Statements such as, ‘This is what we need in India’ or ‘a replaceable battery system is a must in India as the electricity infrastructure does not allow charging your car.’, are just some of the things Paul hears repetitively. However, the right investor for Paul to finance a project manager to develop the Indian eco-system for ACM’s comprehensive solution has not yet showed up.

Focus on a holistic system

Adaptive City Mobility indeed stands for more than a product: it is a concept of emission-free mobility for cities. Besides offering a new vehicle concept, ACM has developed a new replaceable battery system. While conventional electronic vehicles are dependent on the right charging infrastructure, ACM’s vehicle allows the battery to be changed easily within five minutes after 120-160km. An innovative overall management and sharing system completes the concept and allows the vehicle to be used by different target groups. Asked what makes his system unique, Paul answers swiftly: “The holistic system.”

“While developing the system, we had the business model in mind, never the technology. We wanted to create a solution not for the individual customer but for the city of tomorrow, with different groups sharing the vehicle and hence needing different technology and design requirements.”

Lighthouse project of the German government

Initiated in 2011 by Paul, ACM spent one year to identify the right partners. Ten industry and academic players have come on board to realise Paul’s dream, but the way to developing the solution keeping in mind the many different interests to cater to has not been easy. With the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, Germany starting to support the ACM project in 2013, the collaboration between all the partners has smoothened since, as a cooperation contract with clear conflict resolution measures became mandatory. Today ACM is one out of seven eMobility lighthouse projects of the German government.

An environmentalist, entrepreneur, and visionary

Paul has always been interested in holistic solutions that tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. After studying Information Technology, he also got a degree in Industrial Engineering and studied Industrial Design as a postgraduate course. After a stint at a consultancy firm developing strategies for some of Germany’s leading companies, he joined BMW to work on the new-age topic of ‘electric mobility’. But it was just not the right time for electric mobility yet. However, his heart had started to beat for the topic. So he joined a Russian billionaire in 2004 to develop a wheelchair never seen before – one that could climb stairs and transform into a scooter if needed. Being exposed to the startup scene and driven by the motivation to develop something unique, he introduced the ACM concept to a group of industries. Thus, he set the wheels in motion for the project.

Gearing up for the future

Today, ACM has developed its first prototype and is building its first eight cars for a field test at the end of the year in Munich. More than twenty million euros have been invested in the project so far. “India and China today form one-third of the world’s population and are faced with major environmental problems. They are looking globally for innovative solutions as we offer them,” Paul says.

Indeed, by 2030, India aspires to have electric vehicles alone on its streets. A number of schemes such as National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP), 2013 and Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles (FAME), 2015 have been introduced in recent times to achieve this ambitious goal.

We see it is the right time to enter the Indian market and therefore are currently looking for production partners and investors. We also want to support the Indian government to shape their policies with the knowledge we have gained in the last few years. It is our goal to offer our solution at an affordable price range and thus transform India’s urban transport, Paul concludes.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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