VW unveils an electric van for its MOIA ride-sharing service

It will launch in Hamburg in 2018 with about 200 vehicles.

Volkswagen has unveiled the electric van that's a key part of its MOIA autonomous vehicle ride-sharing service. Shown yesterday at TechCrunch Disrupt, it'll carry up to six passengers with niceties like roomy individual seats, ambient LED lighting, WiFi and device power ports. The van-pooling MOIA service will launch in Hamburg in 2018 with 200 vans, letting passengers enter a departure point and destination in an app. "We've set ourselves the goal of taking more than a million cars off the roads in Europe and the USA by 2025," said MOIA CEO Ole Harms.

MOIA's aim is to eventually put autonomous, purpose-built vehicles on the road without drivers. For its first electric van, however, the company isn't emphasizing the self-driving part. Rather, it's focusing on electric vehicle benefits, including the pollution-free 300 km (186 mile) range, 30-minute time to an 80 percent charge and quiet operation. At Disrupt, the company said that the business can still be profitable without the need for autonomous operation.

MOIA also revealed more details about the ride-pooling service, including pricing. While it'll obviously be cheaper than calling your own taxi or Lyft, it won't undercut public transport. "We are operating with full respect of the public system," Harms told TechCrunch. "We don't want to get below the public transport system because them we would take people who are already pooled in a bigger vessel into a smaller one."

VW was able to get the MOIA van on the road and present a functional vehicle in just ten months thanks to "agile" design techniques used at its factory in Onsnabrück. It has already incorporated passenger feedback from tests that started in October using the Volkswagen T6 van. To make the carpooling app work efficiently, the company is developing virtual "bus stops" every 250 yards or so in cities where it'll operate.

Many automakers, including Volvo, Ford and GM, plan to launch their own ride-sharing services, either alone or in partnership with companies like Uber and Lyft. Volkswagen is now pretty far ahead of the game, however, with a purpose built vehicle and launch date (it'll come to Europe by the end of next year and the US in 2025). "Many ideas have already been integrated into the development of this vehicle," said MOIA COO Robert Henrich. "But parallel to this, we're also working on future versions of the vehicle."