Will Uber eventually make the “Johnny Cab” in Total Recall a reality?
You’ve probably heard of Uber, and probably – like most of us – think of it as that clever, industry-disrupting cab service that outsources both the driving and the ownership of taxis, making more money with lower rates, by paying drivers poorly, and avoiding the cost of cab ownership. We generally assume this to be part of their over-arching strategy to become the driving dominant force in the taxi service business. Their goal, simply put, is to get you in their cars when you’re not using yours.
This all mostly true for now – they have been accused of paying drivers poorly to gain a perhaps unfair edge in the taxi business, and they do want to dominate the taxi business overall. But in the long run, one of the last things Uber wants to be doing is hiring drivers, or even paying them. They also don’t want you just using their service when you’re not using your own car.
Their long-term goal is much more sinister.
Uber Wants to Take Your Car Away Forever
Maybe that sounds a bit melodramatic. But if you think Uber is just a clever internet-and-app-enabled taxi service, you’ll be surprised to learn that their long-term goal is to evolve the basic taxi services they currently provide into driverless taxi service, making even more money. And in today’s tech-industry-based, long-game thinking, their ultimate goal isn’t just to own all the taxis, it’s to own all the cars.
How Would This Even Be Possible?
Obviously, in a country full of gun-toting second-amendment crazies “ascared that the gubmint gonna take away they guns“, the idea that a company will somehow take away people’s CARS is preposterous, right? Well, obviously there would be a huge change in perception of ownership necessary, but consider a few factors. First of all, most people already don’t own their cars, they lease them or finance them. Second, many Americans work two-and-a-half hours of every eight to own a vehicle that sits idle 95% percent of the time.
But perhaps more importantly, ponder the words of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick:
“…the reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car, you’re paying for the other dude in the car…when there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. Even if you want to go on a road trip, it would just be cheaper. The magic there is that you bring the cost down below the cost of ownership, for everybody, and then car ownership goes away…”
So A Tech Industry “Unicorn” CEO is Cocky. What Else Is New?
Well, what else is new is that this particular CEO’s company is currently being valued at over $100 billion dollars. Google and Apple’s combined current valuation is over a TRILLION dollars. And all three of these companies (and others) are investing heavily in fully autonomous vehicles of one kind or another. Do you know how much the big three auto companies are worth, combined? About $130 billion. They quite reasonably are scared, scared enough that they’ve set up offices in Silicon Valley to partner in whatever ways they can.
So Is This a Vision of Heaven, or Hell?
Obviously we are years away from seeing how this all plays out. There’s an incredible amount of investment and development going on, markets can do crazy things (many expect a tech bubble in 2016) and the concept of personal car ownership is almost the very essence of “being American”. But assuming there is a profound evolution in who owns and drives cars, then what? Will the roads be even more cluttered, because of the addition of huge numbers of driverless cars? Or will things go more like Uber’s CEO hopes, and we all share a bunch of driverless cars that no-one owns, reducing the number of cars on the road, and reducing emissions, etc.? Hard to say. But CityLab does a nice job of walking through the possibilities in their piece Will a World of Driverless Cars Be Heaven or Hell?
Personally I suspect it’ll all end up being something like the second “Johnnie Cab” scene in Total Recall: