The Road Less Travelled
In a region where almost two-thirds of the population owns a car, nobody thought about car sharing
as an option until a few years ago. Smart SMB turns open the pages of the past with the Co-
Founder and CEO of Ekar, Vilhelm Hedberg, to understand how did they start and where are they
Born in the small town of Venezuela, Vilhelm was surrounded by the best of nature. During his
school days too, he showed a lot of interest in environment protection but even till then the thought
of working with automobiles had never struck him. He always believed in the power of a
sustainable business and that’s what he tried implementing in the shipping company he worked for
and the ISO business he established in Dubai eight years ago. But the best was yet to come.
One fine afternoon, Vilhelm and his friends were discussing business ideas while hanging out in a
swimming pool and that’s when the idea of car sharing came up. The term instantly struck a chord
and Vilhelm grabbed the opportunity to what we know today as the region’s most innovative startup
idea - Ekar.
The letters ‘EK’ in the brand name comes from the flight code of Emirates Airlines, and precisely
the staff of Emirates were the ones Ekar initially catered too. Vilhelm would often see the cabin
crew traveling from one country to another, with taxis and metro as the only option left for local
travels. To sort their issue and to test the waters, Vilhelm and his friend Ravi started Ekar and
provided the staff of Emirates with cars they could share and then pay as per their usage.
Eventually, they began catering to the staff of Etihad Airways and since they got popular, they
began catering to all of Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s residents.
As a city, Dubai is vibrant and ever welcoming. While most people here drive and use their own
cars to drive to their favorite destinations, statistically these cars were only used 5% each day. 95%
of the time they remain parked, which to Vilhelm sounded like a big issue. And it indeed is because
most of the times, the value of the car didn’t justify the usage. While the concept of car sharing has
been popular in the west, the MENA region didn’t have a similar facility. According to reports, each
car shared removes 17 cars off the road, which makes a big difference. Especially in a city like
Dubai where traffic is a huge concern, car sharing came as a breath of fresh air.
The concept of Ekar was fairly simple - providing a mobility facility to people who’d like to travel
locally in an affordable manner. However, it wasn’t so simple to explain this to other key
organisations and funders who often confused it with car pooling. Where car pooling means that a
number of people sit in a car, drive along the way and get dropped off at different locations, car
sharing is where one picks up the car from a location, drives it to his destination, drops it there and
pays for the minutes or hours he uses the car for.
While the concept is not only environment friendly, it saves a lot of money. Since the driver only
pays per minute, commuting over longer distances becomes much cheaper compared to general
taxis, Ubers and Careems. People could pre-book their car and drive it for as less as a minute and
as much as three to four hours. Ekar was launched for those who might want to pick up their children
from school, drive to IKEA for groceries, pick up a few friends for dinner and then drive
Explaining the difference between car sharing and car pooling was just the start when it comes to
the challenges Ekar faced/faces as a brand. The biggest challenge is posed by the high demand of
the consumers. Ideally, the ratio for car share in western countries is 50:1 whereas in Dubai alone
it is 250:1, which means that 250 people are behind one car. To meet the excessive demand, Ekar
needs to continuously keep adding more cars to the fleet.
The second challenge then was ensuring the quality of the cars. With each car being driven by six
or more drivers a day, the possibility of wear and tear had increased. Moreover, whom would you
hold responsible for the damage? That’s when Vilhelm and his team thought about a smart
solution. They enabled various security systems to keep things under control.
Today if someone books an Ekar, he is prompted by the app to take a selfie with the car in the
background. Then the app prompts him to check the car properly and report any damages. He has
to click pictures and submit it on the app before boarding the fleet. When he sits inside, he can rate
the cleanliness of the car too. So if someone sees a scratch on the car and if that scratch was not
there when the car was handed to the previous driver, the app will raise a case against the
previous driver for damaging the car. Moreover, if the car is given any less than three stars in terms
of cleanliness or functioning, it is taken off the road immediately and sent to the service station.
In 2017, Ekar had launched with 100 cars and two years down the line they have more than 200
cars in Dubai alone. In Abu Dhabi, they have about 300 cars. The brand has also entered the
Saudi Arabian market recently with just 15 vehicles to test the market and this year, they plan to
add at least 1000 cars to their fleet there. Apart from these two countries, Vilhelm is also
contemplating expansions in other GCC countries.
According to Vilhelm, Ekar doesn’t compete with Uber, Careem or RTA taxis. The competitor is the
owner himself. As per statistics, where a few years ago almost every individual had a car, the rate
is slowly decreasing. People are choosing more cost effective and environment friendly options like
the metro, taxis and more. Ekar aims to provide a car in the proximity of 500m to every consumer
who wishes to drive from one place to another without worrying about parking fees, petrol cost, car
rentals, EMI and other issues.
Ekar is about to launch a proximity note system. For instance, if you’re in a meeting and you’re
expected to get free within the next 30 minutes so you can update that on the app. After that,
whenever any car comes in close proximity with your location, you’ll either get a notification or the
car will be booked for you automatically. Moreover, one would be able to transact in various
currencies. But the most awaited addition is that of luxury cars which will be much faster and more
stylish than the ones already available.
Ekar as a brand focuses on enriching consumer experience by providing them a solution to their
day to day commuting problem. While the brand has witnessed an increase in revenue for upto
15% by each month, Vilhelm’s vision is to take his company to better heights. It would be worth
seeing what changes do the above innovations bring to consumer’s lives in the near future.