100 Car2go Mercedes hijacked in Chicago crime spree

Car2go, free-floating car-sharing service owned by Daimler, temporarily shut down its service in Chicago on Wednesday after dozens of Mercedes-Benz vehicles were stolen using the app.

The Chicago Police Department was alerted by Car2Go that some of their vehicles may have been rented by deceptive or fraudulent means through a mobile  app, a spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement to TechCrunch.

The news was first reported via tweet by Brad Edwards, a reporter with CBS Chicago. Edwards reported that sources said that many of the vehicles were allegedly used to commit other crimes. CPD did not provide any details about how the vehicles were used and said the investigation was ongoing.

Car2go launched in Chicago last June, the first time in four years that the company added a U.S. city to its ranks. The car-sharing company lets customers rent out vehicles on a short-term basis. Daimler’s diminutive Smart cars were once the lone option for Car2go customers. The company has expanded its offerings in recent years and now offers Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA, as well as the two-door Smartfortwo vehicles.

CPD said 100 vehicles are still unaccounted for. It is believed that 50 vehicles, all of them Mercedes-Benz remain in the greater Chicago area. Police are questioning more than a dozen persons of interest.

CPD said it’s working with Car2go to determine whether there are any other vehicles whose locations cannot be accounted for.  At this time the recoveries appear to be isolated to the West Side, CPD said.

While the perpetrators appear to have gained access to the vehicles through “fraudulent means,” Car2go emphasized that no personal or confidential member information has been compromised.

TechCrunch received a tip from a user who received this “temporary pause in service” message when trying to use the app. Car2go confirmed the shut down and added that it will provide an update as soon as possible.

 

Car2go is going through a branding and organizational transition. Daimler  AG and BMW Group officially agreed to merge their urban mobility services into a single holding company back in March 2018 with a 50 percent stake each. In February, the companies announced plans to unify their services under five categories by creating five joint ventures — Reach Now, Charge Now, Park Now, Free Now and Share Now.

The lobbying is fast and furious as gig companies seek relief from pro-labor Supreme Court ruling

For four years, Edhuar Arellano has left his house at 7 a.m. on weekdays to drive customers around the Bay Area for Lyft and Uber . Most days, he doesn’t get home to Santa Clara until 11 p.m. On weekends, he delivers pizzas to make ends meet.

Like a lot of drivers plugging in to ride-hailing apps for work, he likes the flexibility the gig economy has offered. But given the choice, Arellano says he wishes he could just become an employee. That would get him paid vacation, benefits, overtime, his own health insurance and perhaps more say over his working conditions.

“We need to accept whatever they want,” said the 55-year-old father of two grown children. “I can’t control anything.”

That quandary is behind a ferocious battle quietly playing out in the state Capitol in the final days of the legislative session, which ends August 31. Lobbyists for ridesharing companies and the California Chamber of Commerce are scrambling to delay until next year (and the next governor’s administration) a far-reaching California Supreme Court decision that could grant Arellano’s wish — and, businesses fear, undermine the entire gig economy.

The April ruling, involving the nationwide delivery company Dynamex Operations West Inc. and its contract drivers, established a new test for enforcement of California wage laws, and made it much harder for companies in California to claim that independent contractors are not actually employees.

Though the ruling only applies to California, the state’s labor force is so huge that it has already had national impact. Shortly after the decision, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced a bill to make a version of California’s new rule the federal standard, a move that only added urgency to employers’ calls for state lawmakers to hit the pause button on implementing the ruling.

“Businesses are very concerned. The key is who’s going to be sued here in the near future,” said Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber, which represents 50,000 businesses.

They should be, says labor leader Caitlin Vega, who has been similarly lobbying Capitol Democrats to refrain from meddling and let the Supreme Court decision move forward.

“Companies have made so much money already at the expense of workers,” Vega, the legislative director of the California Labor Federation, said Tuesday during a harried break between Capitol meetings. “We really see the Dynamex decision as core to rebuilding the middle class.”

State and federal labor laws give employees a wide range of worker protections, from overtime pay and minimum wages to the right to unionize. But those rights don’t extend to independent contractors, whose ranks have grown dramatically in the gig economy.

Apps such as Uber, TaskRabbit and DoorDash, which match customers and services online and in real time, have given workers an unprecedented ability to freelance but they also have blurred traditional employer-employee relationships and, labor advocates say, invited exploitation.

Some 2 million people, from Lyft drivers to construction workers, consider themselves independent contractors in California. In 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about one in 14 workers was an independent contractor nationally.

If state lawmakers don’t rewrite the law or stall its implementation for a few months, as businesses want — which the Legislature can legally do, though the clock is ticking — the Dynamex decision will subject businesses in California to a standard that is tougher than the federal government’s or most states’.

Known as the “ABC test,” the standard requires companies to prove that people working for them as independent contractors are:

  • A) Free from the company’s control when they’re on the job;
  • B) Doing work that falls outside the company’s normal business;
  • C) And operating an independent business or trade beyond the job for which they were hired.

That’s a high bar for the many companies whose bottom lines have depended on large numbers of contractors to deliver a particular service. According to the business lobby, in the months since the Dynamex decision, law firms have received 1,200 demands for arbitration and 17 class action lawsuits.

Last month, business leaders sent a letter to members of Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, warning that the new test would “decimate businesses,” and urging the governor and Legislature to suspend and then limit the court’s ruling to only workers involved in the Dynamex case. The letter also asked that the decision not apply to other contractors for the next two years.

Not all those contractors are in tech, Chamber head Zaremberg points out. Emergency room doctors and accountants, for example, could also be impacted. Emergency hospitals and trauma centers contract their doctors through medical groups, and doctors generally work at a combination of hospitals and community clinics.

Photo: shapecharge / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dr. Aimee Mullen, president of the California chapter of American College of Emergency Physicians, confirms that ER docs are among those uncertain about their contractor status.

“A lot of our members use that model. It’s choice. They like flexibility. They like working at multiple hospitals,” Mullen said.

The California Labor Federation’s Vega contends that, disruptive though it may be, the Dynamex ruling is the right one, particularly on worker exploitation. The core group affected tends to be low-income and immigrant workers, she said.

“The Dynamex decision was a victory for working people — truck drivers who are cheated out of wages, warehouse workers forced to risk their health and gig economy workers who want to be treated with dignity and respect,” Vega wrote in a Sacramento Bee op-ed.

Some workers see room for hybrid solutions. Edward Escobar, a San Francisco ride-hail driver of four years and founder of the Alliance for Independent Workers, a group formed by drivers three years ago, says he has seen a big decrease in how much these companies compensate drivers without a commensurate increase in control over working conditions.

Escobar believes gig companies are trying to have it both ways, and should give their workers either true independence or full employment. His proposal: Let workers choose their own classification, with wage and benefit protection for those who choose to be employees, and more control for contractors over which rides to take and what prices to set.

“These tech titans have been taking advantage of these gray areas,” Escobar said.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, a Paramount Democrat, said earlier this month that while the Legislature is eager to delve into workforce issues, leaders do not have adequate time to act on it before the session ends next week.

“The Dynamex​ decision strikes at the core of what the future of work looks like in our society,” Rendon said in a statement. “From the decline of union membership to court rulings like the Janus decision, we’ve seen the continual erosion of workers’ rights. If the Legislature is to take action, we must do so thoughtfully with that in mind. That will not happen in the last three weeks of the legislative session.”

Nor are the stakes likely to be lowered for workers like Arellano.

“If I don’t work, I have no money,” said the Lyft and Uber driver. “Everything is so expensive in Santa Clara and the Bay Area.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

China’s Didi pumps $1B into its rebranded driver services business

Didi Chuxing is going pedal to the metal for its automobile services business after it announced it will invest $1 billion into the division, which is also getting a rebrand.

The Chinese ride-hailing firm had been tipped to spin out the business and raise $1.5 billion from investors ahead of an IPO, according to a recent Reuters report. The business itself hasn’t spun out, however, but it has been renamed to Xiaoju Automobile Solutions and given more autonomy with the introduction of its own general manager.

The division handles services for registered Didi drivers, such as leasing and purchase financing, insurance, repairs, refueling, car-sharing and more. Essentially, with its huge army of drivers, Didi can get preferential rates from service providers, which means better deals for its drivers. That, in turn, is helpful for recruiting new drivers and growing the business. (Didi claims to support 30 million drivers, but that covers food delivery as well as more basic point-to-point transportation.)

Rather than outsiders — SoftBank had been linked with an investment at a valuation of up to $3 billion — Xiaoju is getting its capital boost direct from Didi. The company said it injected $1 billion to “support its business in providing Didi drivers and the broader car-owner community with convenient, flexible, economical, and reliable one-stop auto services.”

Of course, these factors don’t preclude Didi from spinning the business out in the future and listing it separately to the parent Didi firm. That’s the reasoning Reuters made in its previous story, and it still stands to reason that if Didi is (as widely expected) planning a public listing of its own then it might be keen to break out this asset-heavy part of its business.

Didi didn’t respond to our request for comment on those future plans.

Didi Chuxing’s rebranded Xiaoju driver services division includes a refueling program for its drivers.

The company is saying more about the Xiaoju business itself. It said the services support drivers in over 257 cities through a network of 7,500 partners and distributors. There are some caveats, though: the auto care service is currently limited to seven cities in China.

Didi also went on the record with some financial data. The company claimed that annualized GMV for Xiaoju has jumped from 37 billion RMB ($5.4 billion) in April 2018 to 60 billion RMB ($8.76 billion) as of today. That’s impressive growth of 62 percent, and the forecast is that it will easily pass its previous goal of 90 billion RMB ($13.15 billion) for 2018 before this year is finished.

GMV, in this case, refers to the total value of goods and services crossing the Xiaoju platform. That help gives an idea of how active it is, but it doesn’t translate to revenue or profit/loss for Didi. The company didn’t provide information for either revenue or profitability for Xiaoju.

This year has been a notable one as the company has expanded its horizons for the first time by venturing outside of China.

Last year, Didi raised $4 billion to double down on technology, AI and move into new markets, and it has come good on that promise by entering Mexico, Australia and Taiwan. It also landed Brazil through the acquisition of local player and Uber rival 99 and it is preparing to go live in Japan, where it will operate a taxi-booking service through a joint venture with SoftBank.

Beyond that massive $4 billion raise, Didi recently landed a $500 million investment from Booking Holdings that’s aimed at providing strategic alliances between the Didi and the travel giant’s range of services. The company has raised over $17 billion from investors to date and it was last valued at $56 billion.