Even before we finish digesting the news of how Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is planning to tunnel his way to disrupting urban mobility, Uber, the “global cabbie”, has revealed its plans to launch a flying taxi service.
Uber’s Chief Product Officer, Jeff Holden, said at the Uber Elevate Summit in Dallas that Uber hopes to start a flying taxi services in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, and Dubai by 2020.
The diametrically opposite approaches of Musk’s Tesla and Kalanick’s Uber might be surprising, but believe it or not, Tesla is a humongous threat to Uber’s future. It is not exactly a taxi service vs a taxi service fight, but much more than that.
Tesla, as most of us know, has been aggressively pushing self-driving technology, and possibly has the best autonomous technology that is available in the world right now. Even if you don’t want to take that statement at face value, you can’t argue that Tesla was a huge catalyst that spurred auto companies and big tech majors to start believing that self-driving is the future that we need to move to.
But Tesla is not planning to stop at merely taking the manual effort out of driving. They want to go much beyond that, and make it possible for Tesla owners to convert their cars into cabs when not in use.
Think about it: if autonomous technology evolves in the future, sending your car to work as a taxi service for some one else is just a minor technology hurdle away, nothing more. Besides, what better way to recover the investment you made in your car?
Tesla owners could put their car to work when it’s not in use, earning back a portion of the vehicles fares. Musk estimates that cars are only in use 10 percent of the day, leaving them a massive chunk of time to earn their keep. With that kind of return, he says “almost anyone could own a Tesla. – Inverse.com
It’s absolutely possible in the future, and if that happens, the taxi and car-hailing industries will not only get disrupted, but several companies will be replaced by auto companies or companies that own self-driving technology.
So, it’s not really a surprise that Tesla and Uber are slowly navigating themselves into a collision course.
To be fair, Uber has been toying with the idea of flying taxis for a while now. Uber announced plans to offer helicopter rides in Brazil last year, offered rides from Nice to Cannes last summer and hired a NASA expert to build flying cars early this year. They have been quite active with their flying service for a while now. And there are several companies like Germany’s Lilium, which recently pilot-tested their urban flying car, the Lilium Jet.
It could be mere coincidence that Elon Musk announced “The Boring Company” and his underground transport concept and Uber’s Flying Taxi plans were revealed during the same week. Maybe Uber felt the need to make public its future plans at a time when options were being bared on the table, but we’ll never know.
What we do know is that there is a high level of competition in addressing the urban mobility issue, and we certainly hope that this fight helps decongest our cities in the future.
But there is one more thing to remember:
If traffic congestion improves in cities because of subterranean initiatives like Musk’s Boring Company, the value quotient of personal cars will go up, thereby increasing the market size of cars in highly populous cities – something that any auto maker would love to have. From that perspective, extra road space makes sense for auto companies like Tesla to push for.
On the other hand, Uber is already a transport-hailing company, so adding the aerial dimension does make a lot of sense for them. There’s definitely a segment of the population that wouldn’t mind paying a premium just to get from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.
Both these companies are just doing what they think is best for their future. And, as customers, we should love to have our options widen, go up and go down, in a manner of speaking. In the meantime, let the big boys battle it out for our time and money.