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Ofo为何在美国紧急刹车?

Eamon Barrett 2018年08月03日

与Uber一样,Ofo已经发现同时在亚洲市场和美国国内运营的目标过高。

科罗拉多州丹佛市一座公交站外停放的Ofo共享单车。这家初创公司已经停止在美国运营,理由是监管过多。Helen H. Richardson—Denver Post via Getty Images

Ofo是全球最大的共享单车独角兽公司之一,也是业界的领跑者。目前正在急速扩张海外业务的Ofo却停止了在美国的运营。这是出行类公司全球竞争故事出现的最新波折。在这个故事里,中国科技巨头阿里巴巴和腾讯以及拼车行业先锋Uber和Lyft都是核心角色。

总部设在北京的Ofo于去年夏天进入美国,1000辆小黄车率先摆在了西雅图街头。这一年里,Ofo在美国的30座主要城市投放了4万辆自行车。就在今年6月,该公司还表示希望在年底前进入100座美国城市。

因此,当7月下旬Ofo宣布美国业务将进入“休眠模式”时,就难免让人感到意外。虽说是休眠,但由于多个城市的业务都陷入停滞,估计Ofo的100名美国员工中将有70人失去工作,三名Ofo美国高管则已经离职。

Ofo将撤出美国的主要原因归咎于当地法规。该公司发表声明称:“Ofo已经开始重新评估那些给新的绿色出行解决方案设置障碍的市场,并将优先在那些支持替代性出行方式,并允许我们继续服务于顾客的切实可行的市场发展业务。”

在国内,Ofo及其对手摩拜单车可以在监管相对宽松的环境中快速扩张,通过大量投放自行车来确保自己的主导地位。官方最初对此持默许态度,但两家公司的自行车很快就淹没了大街小巷,这让地方政府开始倾向于出手干预。

对要进入美国的共享单车来说,自行车在中国城市里“占领”人行道或堆积如山的画面并不是什么好的宣传。美国议员对率先在中国流行的“无桩”共享单车模式也一直较为谨慎。

大多数引进无桩共享单车的美国城市都采用了试行的办法,并且严格限制共享单车公司投放自行车的数量。在华盛顿,Ofo的投放量被限制为仅仅400辆,该公司表示这使它无法实现规模效益。

美国的共享单车出现的比中国早,美国地方官员更习惯于传统租赁模式带来的整洁市容。这种模式下自行车从存放点借出,最终还要归还到存放点。

Uber和Lyft的两轮之争

在美国,共享单车行业的领军者是Motivate。Lyft最近斥资2.5亿美元收购了这家公司,并将把这个品牌重新包装为Lyft Bikes。Motivate掌握着美国约80%的自行车出租业务,而且经常和赞助企业合作以提升收入。在纽约,Motivate的自行车得到了花旗的赞助;在旧金山,冠名这些自行车的是福特汽车。

总部设在纽约的Jump采用了另一种单车共享模式,而且有望在将来和Motivate抗衡。Jump是第一家在旧金山拿到牌照的无桩共享单车公司,此前很多年旧金山一直和Motivate签有独家运营合同。

Jump的脚踏电单车(便于在旧金山湾区的山丘道路上行驶)上装有固定式自行车锁,但也可以配备U型锁,这样就能把自行车锁在栏杆等固定物体上。这项功能避免了Jump和芝加哥监管部门发生冲突,因为后者要求停放自行车时必须锁在栏杆上。正是这项规定让Ofo在今年7月初带着些许不满退出了芝加哥。

Uber在今年4月收购了Jump,出价估计为2亿美元。Motivate的有桩单车模式的成本远高于Jump的无桩模式,许多人认为这是Jump的竞争优势所在,对此Uber也展示出了信心。现在还不清楚在Lyft的治理下,Motivate颇有价值的赞助协议还能否继续生效。

Uber和Lyft还打算涉足去年风靡全美的电动滑板车,这个领域的主要龙头企业是加州共享单车公司Lime。Uber最近参与了Lime的一轮融资。这家公司是最早将无桩共享单车移植到美国的公司之一,比Ofo和摩拜单车登陆美国早了几个月。筹集了4.67亿美元后,Lime表示自己已经成为美国无桩共享单车服务行业的领军者。

共享单车独角兽

对Ofo以及摩拜的迅速扩张来说,资金自然是关键。按照中国科技行业的“惯例”,它们成了腾讯和阿里巴巴之间对抗的代理人。腾讯支持的是摩拜,Ofo背后则是阿里巴巴。

今年3月,阿里巴巴开始力挺Ofo——牵头为其筹集了8.66亿美元资金,并成为了Ofo的主要投资人。阿里巴巴旗下的蚂蚁金服以及大型拼车服务公司滴滴出行也参与过Ofo此前的几轮融资。

去年Ofo表示自己的价值达到了20亿美元。但摩拜看来走在了Ofo的前面——今年4月,美团以27亿美元的价格收购了摩拜(同样得到了腾讯的支持)。今年7月,Ofo的首席执行官戴威曾经拒绝了滴滴的类似收购提议。戴威曾表示他认为Ofo应一直是个独立品牌,但这个目标看来很难实现了。

今年5月,戴威推出了“胜利”计划,旨在提升员工士气。这项计划的目标是实现1元(约0.15美元)的利润。为此,Ofo匆忙退出了除美国以外的多个海外市场,包括以色列、澳大利亚、德国、印度绝大多数地区和英国的一些城市。

Uber已经发现同时在亚洲市场和美国国内运营的目标过高,与之相似,中国出行类公司或许也没有做好脚踏两个半球的准备。(良辰财富网)

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

Ofo, one of the world’s largest bike-sharing unicorns and an industry pioneer, is significantly scaling back its global operations, including cutting down services in the U.S. The move is the latest twist in a story of global competition among mobility companies—one in which Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent and ride-hailing pioneers Uber and Lyft are all central characters.

Ofo, a Beijing-based start-up powered into the U.S. last summer, debuting 1,000 of its bright yellow bikes on the streets of Seattle. In the year since it has deployed 40,000 bicycles across 30 major cities. As recently as June, Ofo said it hoped to enter 100 U.S. cities by the end of the year.

So it was a surprise when late July Ofo announced its U.S operations would be entering “sleep mode” instead. While it’s dozing, an estimated 70 of its 100 U.S. staff will lose their jobs as services stop in a number of cities. Three of its top U.S. executives have already left.

The company has placed heavy blame for its withdrawal on local legislation. In a statement the company said, “Ofo has begun to re-evaluate markets that present obstacles to new, green transit solutions, and prioritize growth in viable markets that support alternative transportation and allow us to continue to serve our customers.”

In China, Ofo and its rival Mobike were able to expand rapidly in a relatively unregulated environment, racing to secure dominance by flooding the streets with their bicycles. Authorities quietly acquiesced at first, but before long city streets were so inundated with bicycles that local governments were inclined to intervene.

Pictures from China of bikes cluttering sidewalks or piling up in dumps didn’t make great advertising material for their arrival in America, and U.S. lawmakers have been more cautious about welcoming the “dockless” bike-share model pioneered in China.

Most cities in the U.S. that have introduced dockless bikes have done so under pilot schemes, strictly limiting the number of bikes any company can deploy. In Washington, D.C., Ofo was limited to a fleet of just 400, which it claims was preventing it from achieving economies of scale.

America has a longer history of bike-sharing than China does, and local officials are more accustomed to the tidiness offered by traditional rental schemes where bikes are collected from and returned to designated docking points.

Uber vs. Lyft on two wheels

Here, the industry leader is a company called Motivate, which was recently acquired by Lyft for $250 million and will be rebranded as Lyft Bikes. The company is responsible for some 80% of bike rentals in America, often partnering with corporate sponsors to drum up revenues. In New York, its bikes are sponsored by Citi, and in San Francisco, the bikes are branded by Ford.

One company offering a different model of bike-sharing that could rival Motivate’s in the future is New York-based Jump. It was the first dockless bike-sharing scheme to obtain a license from San Francisco, which for years had offered Motivate an exclusive contract.

Jump’s pedal-assisted e-bikes (handy on Bay Area hills) have an integrated wheel lock, but also come with an optional U-lock, so that the bikes can be secured to stationary objects such as railings. This feature has saved it from falling afoul of regulators in Chicago, who mandated that bikes needed to be secured to railings when not in use ¬– a decision that prompted Ofo to withdraw from the city earlier in July, with some resentment.

Uber bought Jump in April for an estimated $200 million. Uber was showing faith in what many see as Jump’s competitive edge: Motivate’s docked bicycle model is far more expensive than the dockless versions offered by Jump, and it’s not clear if the former’s valuable sponsorship deals will continue under Lyft’s ownership.

Uber and Lyft are also seeking to expand into e-scooters – a craze that has boomed in America over the last year, primarily led by Californian bike-share company Lime. Uber recently joined a fundraising round for Lime, which was one of the first to transplant the dockless bike model into the U.S., months before Ofo or Mobike arrived on its shores. With $467 million in funding, it claims to be the leading dockless bike share provider in the U.S.

Bike-sharing unicorns

Funding, naturally, has been vital for the rapid expansion of Ofo and Mobike too. Typical of tech in China, the two companies became proxies for the battle between Tencent and Alibaba, with the former backing Mobike and the latter championing Ofo.

Alibaba put its weight behind Ofo in March, leading an $866 million fundraising round and becoming a major investor. Alibaba’s affiliate Ant Financial and ride-hailing giant Didi had joined in previous rounds.

Ofo claimed to be valued at $2 billion last year, but Mobike appears to have pulled ahead in April when it was acquired by Meituan (also backed by Tencent) for $2.7 billion. Ofo CEO Dai Wei turned down a similar buyout bid from Didi the same month. Dai has said that he’s determined that Ofo should remain an independent brand, but the situation looks dire.

In May, Dai attempted to raise staff morale by launching the Victory initiative – an ambition to achieve just Rmb1 of profit, or around $0.15. To achieve that goal, Ofo has hastily retreated from a number of its overseas markets besides America, including Israel, Australia, Germany, most of India and locations in the U.K.

Much as Uber found tackling the Asian market as well as its home territory to be too ambitious, Chinese mobility companies might not be ready to occupy both hemispheres either.

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