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2015: Uber Replaces Tesla as Chief Disrupter

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 02, 2015

It seemed that Tesla could do no wrong in 2013 and 2014. Even when something went wrong, like its cars catching fire, Tesla turned it into an opportunity to demonstrate its technical advantages over the competition – with over the air software updates, of course. By the close of 2014, Tesla was running out of software tricks and was forced to impress with brute force hardware updates to vehicle performance.

But after doing its utmost to disrupt propulsion, safety, infotainment, manufacturing and distribution, Tesla will have to step aside for Uber in 2015. It is Uber that can brag of its $40B valuation now that it has set its sights beyond ride sharing to logistics and maybe more.

Uber is the envy of the technology community as it transforms transportation and explores the potential scope of its widening expertise. Uber is no longer solely interested in moving people. It is now selling and delivering things as well and moving into new forms of transportation (helicopters, boats) opening up intriguing possibilities.

Uber can tap into product delivery, navigation, routing and e-commerce. About the only opportunities not immediately on the table are mapping and search, but maybe Uber can have an impact in these applications as well.

While location has dominated discussions in the connected vehicle marketplace over the last few years, logistics represents the next level of added value. Uber’s knowledge of travel times between millions of destinations and its ability to gather and analyze probe data around the clock along with the ability to monitor the demand for transportation means Uber has the keys to unlock a deeper understanding of dynamic transportation requirements wherever it operates.

If Uber can add e-commerce to its menu of services it can offer a vertically integrated alternative to Amazon. In fact, as 2014 draws to a close it is odd to see Amazon so completely uninterested in transportation alternatives (aside from space travel) and the automotive market. Amazon doppelganger, Alibaba, in China, has acquired map maker Autonavi and entered the ride-sharing market with Kuaidi and talks about making its own cars. (Alibaba has even been enabling online auto sales and building OEM branded online shops.)

The leading browser in China, Baidu, has also entered both the map and ride sharing markets and has partnered with BMW to work on self-driving cars. Uber isn’t talking about building cars but the opportunity exists for Uber to use its app and probe data to build its own Waze-like map. An acquisition of TomTom by Uber could save the company a lot of trouble.

TomTom has been working with Apple for two years strongly suggesting that Apple has found the prospect of building its own map to be more challenging than it originally anticipated. Still, Apple has held off acquiring TomTom, leaving the way open for a competitor like Facebook, Alibaba, Baidu or, maybe Uber to buy TomTom and leverage its map for advertising, e-commerce, m-commerce and logistics opportunities.

HERE, the primary alternative to TomTom, is expected by many to ultimately fall into the hands of Microsoft, which has its own means and motives for scaling its Azure cloud services enhanced by HERE’s map data. But neither HERE nor Microsoft appear to be in any hurry and HERE, in the meantime, continues to add strategic deals with Microsoft competitors such as Samsung to extend its already strong automotive portfolio.

But Uber will be the fly in every player’s ointment in 2015. Uber’s secret sauce is its access to the growing millennial underclass rumored to be less devoted to owning cars than its forebears. For these users, Uber is the shizzle.

Every car maker will be transferring its awe and glorification of Google from 2-3 years ago to Uber in 2015, trying to tap into the next generation of automobile buyers. In anticipation, every Uber car will become something of a testbed not only for Uber’s dreams of product delivery and logistics, but also for a better understanding of consumer technology preferences.

Millennials are a tough crowd to figure out. They bring their own tech wherever they go, so it can be hard to impress them with yours. Uber users do need a credit card and smartphone to access the service, and those requirements fit nicely with the target audience of car makers. About the only value-adds an Uber driver can offer is the usual bottle of water and a smartphone charger.

The insights Uber possesses into the mass of Uber users and their rides, though, is invaluable and it spans most demographic segments. Uber can threaten Amazon’s domination of logistics and Google’s domination of location data interpretation – where users work, play, live etc. Like Tesla, Uber’s disruption is pervasive.

Working with Uber is an opportunity the auto industry cannot afford to pass up. This is why car makers have been setting up programs for Uber buyers to use Toyota, Audi or GM vehicles.

Uber is in position to be the analytics champ in 2015, if it isn’t already at the close of 2014. There’s a new king of disruption in the transportation biz. The only question that remains is whether Uber will be a responsible steward of customer data.

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