Uber CEO Called Elon Musk To Pitch Self-Driving Car Partnership

Ride-hailing giant Uber’s chief executive pitched Tesla CEO Elon Musk last year on partnering to develop autonomous cars, according to a book scheduled for release next week.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick called Musk last year soon after Apple Inc. had invested $1 billion in Didi Chuxing, Uber’s competitor in China. Kalanick intended to recruit Musk to join up and compete against Apple, but it didn’t go that way.

“I said, ‘Look man, we should partner,’” Kalanick said in the book. “Elon spent the rest of the call convincing me that it’s too far out, and it’s not realistic, that I should just stick to what we do best and be focused, or I’m going to f— it all up. That’s when I knew Tesla was competing.”

Kalanick has been featured in Wild Ride, a book by Fortune magazine’s Adam Lashinsky that’s scheduled to be released next week.

Within days after the phone conversation between the two CEOs, on July 20, Musk released his 1,500 word blog post called “Master Plan, Part Deux.” The 10-year plan included autonomous vehicle technologies, such as the concept of Tesla vehicle owners becoming Uber-competitive by renting out their own automated electric cars.

Around the time of that phone call, an Uber executive had learned from a Tesla contact that autonomous vehicles were a top priority for the company.

Both companies declined to comment with Automotive News.

Since the time of that call, Uber and Tesla have become as newsworthy in self-driving cars as Apple and Google.

Tesla was dealing with the fatal crash of a Tesla Model S driver using the Autopilot system in June 2016. That event led to a major announcement in late October of fully autonomous hardware being added to all new Tesla vehicles being built, and which would be activated later once tested and approved by government agencies.

Uber would soon announce its partnership with Volvo to test out self-driving XC90 SUVs in Pittsburgh, with Uber drivers behind the wheel for safety. The company would later fight with California about gaining approval to test drive automated vehicles on its roads, leading the company to leave that state for Arizona.

A potential deal between Uber and Tesla goes back to 2015. Steve Jurvetson, an investor, said in 2015 that Kalanick wanted to buy 500,000 Tesla vehicles if they were fully autonomous by 2020.

So far, 2017 has been a tough year for Uber. Earlier this year, Kalanick quit President Donald Trump’s economic advisory group after facing a backlash related to Trump’s decisions on immigration. He’d resented Musk for staying on the economic advisory panel.

Things got worse for Uber recently as the company battles Waymo’s lawsuit for alleged stolen trade secrets. Google’s Waymo division just announced that it will be working with Lyft, Uber’s main competitor in the U.S., to test out autonomous vehicles.

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The book also delves into another issue that’s hovered around Uber for years – will the company go public.

In Wild Ride, Kalanick and his top dealmaker, Emil Michael, discussed a few scenarios where the company could enter the stock market. The ideas were unconventional, and the book’s author framed the discussion as one that shouldn’t be taken seriously, Automotive News reported.

One of the options discussed in the book is Uber conducting a “reverse merger,” where Uber would buy a public company to list its shares on the market. Another would be bypassing the usual practice of paying bankers 3 percent of the money raised, and would divert those funds to charitable donations.

Uber most likely won’t be going down these paths, a person familiar with the matter said.

Automotive News

 


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