Automotive > In-Vehicle UX Blog

Uber's Weakness; Tesla's Strength

by Roger Lanctot | May 02, 2019

Uber knows very little about the cars and drivers on its network. The company has even fought legal battles to avoid doing background checks on those drivers. It’s one of the many reasons that Uber can’t really guarantee the quality or even availability of its service – to say nothing of the safety of its customers. Compare that to Tesla Motors which appears to know everything about how its cars perform and how its drivers drive.

It turns out, this kind of knowledge matters a lot. It puts Tesla in the position of being able to better understand and extend the performance of its vehicles while creating a connected car offer intended to reduce insurance costs. The insurance story for Uber is very different.

Uber S-1 Filing: Review of Financials & Future Outlook - - Strategy Analytics

According to a recently published report on Uber’s upcoming initial public offering, Strategy Analytics believes “it is likely that insurance expenses make up about half of all cost-of-revenue (COR) expenses – meaning that Uber’s insurance expenses for FY-18 were likely between $2.5B and $3.5B.” This massive exposure, likely shared by rival Lyft and every other player in the segment, represents an insurmountable cost of doing business that may prove fatal to the future of ride hailing.

The key to dodging this fatal expense is vehicle connectivity. Tesla has used vehicle connectivity to better understand vehicle performance, manage and upgrade vehicle-software, and to forensically explain pre- and post-crash scenarios – both fatal and non-fatal.

Those capabilities have helped Tesla to extend the range of its electric-powered cars on both a per-charge basis and on an aggregate mile basis. Companies like Tesloop, which access Tesla’s open APIs to enable peer-to-peer and other car sharing programs, have been able to maximize vehicle usage while tracking that usage.

Tesloop boasts several of the highest mileage Tesla vehicles (chart above) - now in the hundreds of thousands of miles and reflecting frequent same-day supercharging. At the same time, both Tesloop and Tesla have learned plenty about automotive power management and both routine extreme use cases.

Those same open APIs are now being applied to the insurance proposition. For more than a decade, insurance companies around the world have been trying to convert vehicle data into a valid platform for insurance underwriting – taking into account the amount of driving, time of day, speed (in some cases), number of left and right turns, and harsh acceleration and braking.

Insurance companies have always wanted more data than car companies have been willing to share so, for the most part, insurers have been forced to use either aftermarket devices or smartphone apps to gather this information. Now, Tesla is indicating its intention to redefine the usage-based insurance business with its own offer based on data collected directly from the embedded device in the car.

Similar concepts offered by General Motors, Ford Motor Company and others have been far more limited in scope and savings. Tesla's objective is nothing less than furthering the adoption and use of safety systems and autonomous driving.

Tesla’s plans were recently revealed in a 4,000-page filing with the California Department of Insurance for an insurance program for Tesla owners. Tesla’s CEO Elon Mush has reportedly said than an insurance product – underwritten by State National – could launch in a matter of weeks.

According to Reinsurance News, the Tesla Private Passenger Auto program will offer policies for “autos with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in the State of California.” Musk has long argued, in the wake of the first fatal Auto Pilot related crash, that cars using Auto Pilot are much less likely to be involved in a crash – as reflected in lower levels of claims for those vehicles.

Reinsurance News reports that the Tesla filing states: “Vehicles equipped with an autonomous feature option will be eligible for credits based on the level of autonomy of the vehicle.”

The filing further states: “The purpose of the product is to use Tesla’s proprietary technology to lower costs and improve the customer experience by embedded technology to support the underwriting, rating, claims, repair, and product manufacturing network, including direct data feeds with customer permission, when required, that eliminate frictional costs and inefficiencies inherent in traditional insurance processes.”

The offer is expected to be available via Tesla Insurance Services.

Tesla Insurance Program to be Fronted by Markel’s State National - - Reinsurance News

The significance of the State National filing in California is that it represents the first step in recognizing the live-saving value of ADAS systems in cars and establishes a benchmark for insurance discounts based on the availability of those systems. Insurance companies, abetted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, have long argued that the availability or even the efficacy of these systems for saving lives or lowering claims are dubious.

Tesla, in partnership with State National, is blowing up the claims of the doubters in order to introduce a connected car solution for which Tesla can vouch with millions of miles of aggregated vehicle data. In announcing its hardware upgrade last week, Tesla noted how it had upgraded its lane change application such that a “stalk confirmation” from the driver would no longer be required after logging nine (9) million crash-free lane changes.

In essence, Tesla is mastering and advancing the art of automated blindspot detection and lane changing. That kind of technical progress is worthy of an insurance discount – though few if any such discounts are available anywhere outside of Europe.

The only unfortunate element is that by and large current Tesla owners are already benefiting from reasonable insurance rates, based as they always are on historical data. I have yet to find a Tesla owner who reports any kind of painful premium for insuring such an expensive car.

Tesla’s Driver Fatality Rate is More Than Triple That of Luxury Cars (and Likely Even Higher) - - Medium

The importance of the State National filing is that it is the perfect response to Tesla shorts who claim higher fatality and crash rates relative to other luxury brands in its class. For me, Tesla is putting its money behind the millions of miles of data produced by its increasingly long-lived vehicles. Every day Tesla demonstrates the power of connectivity, safety systems, open APIs, and data to transform the experience of owning and driving a car.  Tesla's implementation is far from perfect - leaving too much room for driver abuse or misuse - but by partnering with the insurance industry, the company and its sometimes wayward CEO Musk are not backing down.

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