Chauffeur Privé, a Daimler-backed start-up that has emerged as the main challenger to Uber in France, is now taking on its rival in the UK as part of an ambitious international expansion.
The French car-booking business said on Wednesday it would change its name to Kapten, and would launch in Geneva, followed by London.
“London is hands down the biggest market for private hire vehicles in Europe,” said Yan Hascoet, co-founder of Chauffeur Privé and chief executive of Kapten. “We have wanted to be in London for many years but for reasons of resource constraints — financial, time and team — we were delayed.”
Since it launched in 2012, Kapten has built up 2m users across Paris, Lyon and the Côte d’Azur. It is now the second-largest car-booking app in France by number of users, behind only Uber, which has 3m users in France. Kapten began expanding internationally in September 2018, when it launched in Lisbon.
On tackling the London market, where it will launch with 5,000-10,000 drivers initially, Mr Hascoet said: “We plan to replicate what we did in Paris: differentiating in the way we serve our drivers and differentiating in the way we serve our customers, through our customer loyalty programme.”
He said that Kapten’s relationship with its drivers is “an inclusive, personalised, and respectful approach. If you have a good relationship with the driver the users feel it because they are the first interface with the customer”.
Uber has had a fractious relationship with regulators from London to San Francisco. The US company had its licence revoked by Transport for London, the UK’s transport regulator, in September 2017 after it was accused of being “not a fit and proper” operator because of public safety concerns and its attitude to regulators. In June last year it won back its London licence, following a court battle, with the caveat that it must follow a set of rules agreed with London’s transport authority.
Mr Hascoet said that Kapten has had a constructive dialogue with UK regulators over the past nine months. “We’re not trying to be smarter than the rules as Uber has been in London and other markets,” he said.
Kapten plans to expand in 15 European cities and has set 2020 targets of reaching 10m users, more than tripling its number of partner drivers to 70,000, and doubling its employees to 500 people.
In December 2017 Kapten sold a majority stake to German carmaker Daimler for an undisclosed amount.
Since then Daimler has invested “tens of millions of euros” into the car-booking app, says Mr Hascoet. “Launching in new markets can be very costly if you want to do it fast and efficiently,” he added. “Having a shareholder with a long-term vision allows us to invest heavily, including in areas like devising incentive schemes and benefits to attract drivers.”
Since it was founded, Chauffeur Privé’s drivers were recognisable by the red neckties they were obliged to wear, but these and its French-sounding name are being dropped as part of the rebranding.
“The name Chauffeur Privé had two disadvantages: it was hard for non-French speakers to pronounce, and had a premium connotation,” says Eve Arakelian, chief marketing officer of Kapten. Mr Hascoet added: “The rebranding is a big milestone because it allows us to expand internationally and it allows us to be more mainstream and touch a broader audience.”