Uber could dominate the other autonomous taxi competition with Tesla EVs
Uber does not seem to need help right now. Yesterday, the company announced that it will introduce a fleet of self-driving internal combustion engine (ICE) Volvos in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in two weeks time. However, as Uber looks to continue its growth into the autonomous car market, the company may well find more benefits in collaboration than competition.
Fairly new companies on the scene, Uber (established 2009) and Tesla Motors (established 2003) have both made waves in their respective markets and used new, pioneering forms of technology to get ahead. Collaboration for the two companies could be a good idea. Now, stick with me here, as this idea has not come out of the blue. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick reportedly told venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson that if Tesla cars are autonomous by 2020, Kalanick wants to buy all 500,000 that are expected to be produced.
A master plan
Tesla CEO Elon Musk also recently expressed the possibility of a Tesla taxi fleet. Uber already uses a fleet of cars owned by their drivers, and so it seems the company is only one step away from part deux” of Musk’s “master plan” (perhaps the word ‘programme’ would be a little less scary next time).
The master plan would involve people using their Tesla as an autonomous taxi, allowing them to make money whilst they are not using it. According to Musk, a personal car is in use five to ten per cent of the day. He sees a future which allows personal cars to be mobilised as a self-driving taxi fleet, so that when people are away on holiday, at home, or even at work, their Tesla could be taxiing people about and making money for them. The suggestion was rebuffed by many commentators who believed it to be grandiose. It is not hard to see why, as Tesla Motors is first and foremost a car manufacturer. Yet with the technology which Uber uses to allow people to request a taxi on their mobile, the struggle to find a gap in the market may be more of a walk in the park.
A way out
Uber has had a seemingly never-ending stream of lawsuits from its drivers, from its customers, and even from governments. Its first fleet of self-driving cars has perhaps been introduced in response to this, ensuring the company avoids lawsuits from labour disputes or from customers who are mistreated by drivers.
Tesla has its own technology for self-driven cars, namely Autopilot (only for use on motorways), and Summon, a Bond-esque feature which allows the driver to call his parked car to him. Uber could certainly benefit from the knowledge held by Tesla, and vice-versa, however Uber could be pushed to work with Tesla for another reason.
A way forward
A greater push factor for Uber to collaborate with Tesla would be competition in other areas. Uber is currently threatened by other companies such as Google and Lyft, which have both made plans to introduce new fleets of self-driving, ICE-powered taxis.
The introduction of an EV (soon to be self-driven) fleet may be the niche which will allow them to win out against the competition, by creating a novelty which makes people decide to pick Uber over Lyft or Google.
UberGreen is a new initiative which allows users to choose to be picked up by a car which is either fully electric or hybrid. Having trialled UberGreen from May to July 2016 in Paris, Lisbon, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, Uber is now introducing the feature for trial in Marrakesh this November. So Uber is certainly interested in the movement away from cars powered by ICEs, towards cars like Teslas which add the novelty of being green.
ElecTrans approached Uber for comment on the success and scale of its UberGreen programmes but the company did not immediately respond. Electrans will update the story if more information becomes available.
Meanwhile, some are very excited about the prospect of being picked up by an Uber Tesla…
— Joel Shulman (@joelman7) September 11, 2015
My Uber driver just picked me up in a Tesla with The Crystal Method playing. He use to trade stocks. My man.
— k e n d r a (@nicomilwaukee) June 16, 2014
In the current climate – with popular movements towards greener forms of energy and enthusiasm for exciting new technologies – an alliance between the two transport innovators may seem unlikely, but perhaps only as unlikely as a fleet of robots cars hitting the streets of Pittsburgh by early September.