• Carmaker leads chauffeur service’s biggest funding round
  • New economy class service ‘very promising’: CEO Wohltorf

Daimler AG led the biggest funding round yet in Blacklane GmbH, a Berlin-based competitor to Uber Technologies Inc. that’s seeking to expand in Asia and the Middle East.

Backers invested more than 10 million euros ($11 million) in Blacklane, Chief Executive Officer Jens Wohltorf said Monday, declining to be more specific. Blacklane, which links travelers with professional drivers via a smartphone app, its website and portals such as Expedia Inc., will use the money to add cities and partners in the coming months, he said.

“Given that we want to serve global travelers wherever they arrive, we want to close white spaces in the Asia Pacific and Middle East regions,” he said by phone. Blacklane is in discussions with airlines and online travel agencies in those regions, he said. Existing investors RI Digital Ventures, b-to-v and Alstin joined the round.

Carmakers have been investing heavily in apps to keep pace with changes in consumer habits spurred by ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft Inc. General Motors Co. has invested $500 million in Lyft, Volkswagen AG put $300 million into Israel-based Gett Inc., and Toyota Motor Corp. backed Uber for an undisclosed amount.

Unlike Uber, which often relies on private drivers, Blacklane links business travelers with licensed chauffeurs. Customers can book a trip for a fixed price one hour to months in advance. Blacklane, which employs about 200 and is available in more than 200 cities and 400 airports in 50 countries, has partnerships with companies and travel websites including Booking.com BV and Expedia Inc.

Blacklane has started offering a cheaper "economy class" service in cities including New York, London and Paris that it’s evaluating whether to expand as it’s proven "very promising,” Wohltorf said. A trip from LaGuardia airport to the Empire State Building costs travelers about $59, putting the service in more direct competition with regular taxis, the likes of Uber and Southeast Asia’s Grab.

Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, also owns the Car2Go car-sharing service and purchased Mytaxi in September 2014. It bought U.S. ride-booking service RideScout LLC at the same time.

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