Wheely, Uber's luxury competitor, launches in Dubai to take on the UAE's dominant player

Wheely, Uber's luxury competitor, launches in Dubai to take on the UAE's dominant player

The Dubai skyline.

Umar Shariff Photography

Wheely, a luxury-focused competitor to ride-hailing big Uber, is launching in Dubai as the firm seems to reembark on a world growth effort that was quashed by Covid in 2020.

The firm, based by Russian-Swiss entrepreneur Anton Chirkunov, advised CNBC it should supply rides in the United Arab Emirates metropolis beginning Wednesday, catering primarily to rich shoppers.

As a part of its Dubai debut, Wheely will begin providing customers rides in BMW 5 Series automobiles for the first time, a precursor to including help for BMW’s i5 electrical variant in the future.

That’s a notable step, as the i5 is a less expensive automobile than luxury electrical SUV rivals reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz EQE and the Tesla Model X.

Mercedes’ 2024 EQE EV begins at $79,650 whereas the 2024 BMW i5 collection begins at $66,800.

Wheely did not at any level counsel it plans to ditch Mercedes automobiles anytime quickly, however the transfer offers some perception into how the firm is considering the electrification of its fleets.

Dubai alternative

Chirkunov stated Wheely is concentrating on the Dubai market, which it has been planning on coming into since 2021, because it already serves as a hub for rich enterprise individuals emigrating from Europe, in addition to younger digital nomads.

“European households and entrepreneurs have been shifting to Dubai in the final 5 years,” Chirkunov advised CNBC in an interview forward of the launch. “It is the most requested vacation spot by our company and our members. It sees the highest immigration of millionaires in the world.”

Wheely’s platform is tailor-made extra towards mass market utilization, nevertheless, and Chirkunov thinks his platform has a possibility to stand out. It competes in the same house to Blacklane, one other luxury-focused ride-hailer.

Chirkunov compares his product to extra of a luxury product than a normal service for customers. He compares the Wheely model to the American Express Centurion and Platinum membership bank cards in phrases of name standing.

Headquartered in London, Wheely is a startup that provides a car-hailing app related to Uber, however focused towards a excessive internet value clientele. Fares, for instance, common round £46 ($57.72) for a 30-minute journey from Mayfair to the City of London.

Prices aren’t the solely factor that is “high-end” about Wheely. The firm offers educated chauffeurs who greet clients, gather their luggage, and take different measures to make riders really feel particular.

Users could make particular requests to their chauffeurs on the Wheely app — for instance, having a driver gather flowers for a cherished one earlier than they get picked up.

Wheely even has its personal tailored “chauffeur academy” program in place to prepare up drivers. That program already exists in London, at Syon House, the lavish dwelling of the Duke of Northumberland.

Wheely is now replicating that mannequin in Dubai, too.

Its members-only providers — which customers can solely get entry to by way of invitation or after 15 journeys with the app inside six months — gives entry to extra premium tiers, together with a first-class service with Mercedes-Benz S-Class autos that include tub towels, and an choice to reserve a chauffeur for a complete day.

From Covid crash to world growth

Wheely is making a renewed worldwide drive in Dubai after a number of years of turbulence for the firm.

Wheely had a troublesome time when Covid lockdowns happened.

“The pandemic was powerful as a result of, in contrast to, say, Amazon, the place order volumes skyrocketed in the pandemic, for us our volumes dropped by 99%,” Chirkunov stated.

Since then, nevertheless, demand has bounced again from its high-end clientele.

He says the platform just lately reached operational profitability in every single place besides new markets like Paris and Dubai.

Back in 2020, proper earlier than the pandemic, Chirkunov told CNBC in an interview that he was planning on raising $30 million in contemporary capital to embark on growth into the U.S.

Chirkunov, when requested whether or not Wheely had determined to increase extra cash, disclosed that the firm discreetly raised a further sum of cash internally from present shareholders.

The funding, which has not beforehand been disclosed, quantities to $15 million, and brings Wheely’s complete money raised to date to $43 million.

Wheely’s present shareholder base consists of enterprise capital agency Concentric and AdFirst.vc, in addition to Chirkunov himself.

Wheely plans to increase its Middle East workforce and chauffeur community to over 1,000 in the subsequent three to 5 years, the firm advised CNBC completely.

Wheely reported revenues of £22.5 million in its 2021 monetary yr, in accordance to Companies House submitting.

The firm, which stays lossmaking at a gaggle stage, reported losses of £6.1 million. That was as headcount grew considerably to 221 from 157.

U.S. growth subsequent

The Middle East is not the solely cease on Wheely’s world growth route, although. The startup, which earlier launched providers in Paris, now plans to pursue operations in the United States, Wheely’s co-founder and CEO advised CNBC.

Chirkunov stated that the pandemic scuppered Wheely’s short-term plans to enter the U.S. market, and so Dubai “eclipsed” the U.S. in phrases of focus for the agency.

Now, although, he sees an eventual U.S. launch in his sights.

“We have many North American travellers utilizing Wheely, particularly on transfers and flights,” Chirkunov stated. Wheely’s app permits its chauffeur community to test on updates about the standing of vacationers’ flights in actual time.

“We’re nonetheless launching in the U.S. sooner or later,” Chirkunov added. “The motive we’ve not launched but is as a result of we have been squarely targeted on Dubai.”

But finally, Chirkunov says, “New York will over take London as our high market.”

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