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New app from HERE to give ride-pooling social make-over

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HERE Technologies, the automotive mapping company controlled by three German carmakers, is giving ride-pooling a new twist with an app that makes it easier for friends to share a trip to work, games or concerts.

The app, dubbed SoMo, aims to tap the power of social networks by matching drivers and riders with people they know, rather than at random, according to a statement Monday at the CES technology trade show in Las Vegas. The app also gives individual riders choices like buses, trains and commercial ride-sharing services.

Car-pooling, encouraged by policy makers since the oil shocks of the 1970s, never caught on in big numbers, as drivers resisted sharing their commute with strangers. App-based products have given the idea new life, though some riders have been reluctant to partake. HERE is betting that tying together people who know each other or have similar interests will help SoMo overcome those concerns, said Liad Itzhak, the head of HERE’s mobility unit.

“It was often more like a platform for hitchhiking,” Mr. Itzhak said in a phone interview. “The cost for the driver is very high, and you lose flexibility and sometimes privacy,” he said.

If it catches on, the app could help keep companies like Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. from dominating the future of transportation, while reducing congestion on city roads, Mr. Itzhak said.

SoMo also ties into a provider network called the HERE Mobility Marketplace that the Amsterdam-based company announced a year ago at CES. Individuals can search for rides on commercial taxi and ride-sharing services, as well as public transportation or bike-share programs.

This feature will put SoMo into competition with a number of digital upstarts like Israel’s Moovit and Daimler AG-owned Moovel Group GmbH that are aiming to better organize the array of choices consumers now have to get around without their own cars. SoMo can also serve as classic navigation system offering turn-by-turn guidance and traffic updates.

HERE, whose main business is onboard navigation in cars, was purchased by Daimler, BMW AG and Volkswagen AG’s Audi unit for €2.5 billion ($2.9 billion) in 2015 from Nokia Oyj. Intel Corp. and German car-parts giants Continental AG and Robert Bosch GmbH have since joined the consortium.

HERE’s mobility efforts are completely separate from its stakeholders, Mr. Itzhak said.

“Our focus is on keeping our neutrality,” Mr. Itzhak said. — Bloomberg