How Do You Buy a Million Cars When You Can’t Make a Dime?

Burney Simpson

The summer of 2016 is proving a topsy-turvy time for driverless industry as headwinds buffet ridesharing technology firms Uber and Lyft and auto OEMs foresee fully autonomous vehicles in a few years.

Isn’t this supposed to be a quiet time for business? Take a breather, sit by the water, and eat some Michigan cherry burgers.

Not in transportation technology.

For instance, Ford announced it was working to launch fully autonomous automobiles by 2021. BMW, Intel and Mobileye joined to say they will have vehicles in production for the same target date. Ridesharing titan Uber says it will launch this month driverless vehicles in Pittsburgh, though some employees will be in the car to ensure safety.

Forget the 10 years down the road baloney. We’ll be Level 4 Autonomous in three to five years.

Yet for all the excitement there’s been some downer news.

A number of outlets reported that Lyft was seeking a buyer, despite the $500 million that GM pumped into it earlier this year. (Lyft later denied the buyer story, blaming it on archrival Uber). Earlier this year Lyft pledged to its investors to keep its U.S. losses under $50 million a month.

And Bloomberg reported that Uber told its investors it lost $520 million in the first quarter, and more than $750 million in the second. This after losing about $2 billion in 2015. That must have played a part in Uber’s decision to sell its China operations to competitor Didi Chuxing.

SHAKY FOUNDATIONS

It’s valuable to keep in mind the shaky foundations of Uber and Lyft because the two have been touted as an important foundation for the growth of autonomous vehicles.

Supposedly car owners are going to shift to ridesharing to get around, abandon their cars, and start trying out all kinds of shared transportation options. That means mass transit, bike share, car share, semi-customized bus lines, even walking for crying out loud.

No more Single Occupancy Vehicles. American commuters unite. You have nothing to lose but your fat guts and bubbly butts.

The theory is that Uber, Lyft and other transportation providers will buy hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of autonomous vehicles from BMW, GM, Ford, etc.

They’ll phase out their human drivers, the most expensive part of their operations, and offer driverless vehicles that get you to work. For the ride home you’ll be allowed to drink and not drive. Just in time for legal marijuana baby!

Moovel2But if these guys can’t make money now, how do they buy/lease a million high-tech autonomous cars? Does Uber go back to investors like Goldman Sachs and Benchmark Capital for another $16 billion? It sounds like investors have told Lyft to stop the losses, despite whatever it denies.

Look, there’s been some great news for the ride sharers too. Lyft provided nearly 14 million rides in July, while Uber churned out 62 million.

Lyft President John Zimmer told Business Insider his company is on its way to providing $2 billion worth of rides. Uber, valued at $69 billion, will use the $1 billion it received from Didi to get out of China to grow in Southeast Asia or battle Lyft in the U.S.

But consider this – investors can be fickle, as proven by several tech bubbles already this century; Lehman Brothers is just the latest giant to have a huge valuation before it crumbled; and the stock market is hitting record levels.

Transportation technology offers an intriguing mix of glamour and grease that the VC geniuses love. For the rest of us it’s vital to see through the glamourous front so we don’t slip on the grease.

Graphics from Ford, Car2Go.

1 reply
  1. Neal Arnold
    Neal Arnold says:

    I own a very small limo company in the DFW area. Two sedans a stretch and a executive van. Like many drivers I also run some Uber & UberX trips to offset my fuel and tolls.

    UberX has raised their rates by a goodly amount recently. Perhaps in a effort to possibly lower their losses and retain drivers. The average driver seems to only last a couple of months.

    Reply

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