Uber and Lyft Face Tougher Competitors Than Taxis: Automakers

As the taxi industry continues being decimated by Uber and Lyft ride-hailing and ridesharing services, these and other mobility companies will begin seeing a wave of competition coming from automakers jumping into the race.

Taxi and black-car operators have been sideswiped by Uber and Lyft in recent years as riders get to pay about half the taxi fare, tap into on-demand pickup from their mobile device, and have a much more user friendly and likeable experience. That’s been especially the case for younger riders in their 20s and 30s who don’t see the point in following the previous taxi-ride tradition.

Last year saw a wave of acquisitions and investment from global automakers entering the shared mobility space, and preparing for the autonomous rides of the future. The possibility of providing robo-taxis was one of the potential services being discussed as automakers reinvent themselves from vehicle manufacturers to mobility service providers.

Daimler, Ford, General Motors, and Volkswagen proved how serious they are about it. Much of that has come through acquisitions including VW launching its Moia mobility service division, and GM starting up Maven carsharing and investing in Lyft.

Market analysts warn Uber that getting into shared, automated rides could be undercut by automakers experienced in starting new divisions with the capital needed to back it up. Automakers investing in carsharing and ridesharing fleets could have the upper hand.

“Uber has to undergo a transition as large as OEMs,” said James Hodgson, an analyst with ABI Research.

Daimler has been in the market for years through its Car2Go carsharing subsidiary. The German automaker has gone through highs and lows with Car2Go, after entering a market niche it had had no experience with prior. It now serves over two million members worldwide.

Daimler, through Car2Go, has the experience to issue a wake-up call to Uber, Lyft, and other mobility startups.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Paul DeLong, CEO of Car2Go. “There’s significant investment [in] maintenance, repair, fuel, parking cost. It comes down to utilization. We want to get people to use our cars multiple times in the day.”

Automakers have paid serious attention to the intensive growth and interest out there in Uber and Lyft – and in autonomous driving.

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Uber has been quite serious about testing autonomous vehicles, experiencing its first crash Friday night in Tempe, Ariz. The company has also entered autonomous trucking through its Otto acquisition last year; that acquisition has been at the heart of a lawsuit from Google’s Waymo company based on accusations that Uber stole Waymo’s intellectual property on self-driving vehicles.

Last July in his “Master Plan, Part Deux” blog post, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that his company will be getting into the game. Tesla will be rolling out a shared fleet program that enables Tesla owners with fully autonomous cars to make income through renting out their electric vehicle to customers needed a ride.

GM is tapping into a similar revenue stream through its Express Drive rental car program. Lyft drivers can rent GM vehicles that include insurance and maintenance in the rental cost.

With GM and Lyft working together to test out self-driving all-electric Chevy Bolts, perhaps Lyft drivers will one day have that option to try out through Express Drive.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles entered the space last year through its partnership with Waymo. FCA will provide the Chrysler Pacifica; Waymo will automate the self-driving minivans and may offer a mobility service with the vehicle.

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