World’s largest ride hailing company Uber today said its driverless car may be on roads in less than a year as it works with leading automobile manufacturers on technology for self-driving vehicles. Uber is also betting big on India, which it says could be its leading tech centre in 10 years. On his maiden visit to India, Uber Technologies CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said the company is collaborating with Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp on autonomous technology.
“In less than a year, autonomous vehicles will be on the road in our network,” he said. “Much sooner than you would expect.” At a fireside chat at IIT-Delhi, Khosrowshahi said he wants to make a big bet in India on technology. “I want to make a big bet in India. I think the talent pool here is extraordinary. I think the work ethic here is terrific. I think people are hungry to succeed. I love the entrepreneurial energy in India. So I want India to be our second tech centre. San Fanscisco is the headquarters but India is going to be a very big tech centre, and who knows maybe 10 years from now India will be our first tech centre, we will see,” he said.
Uber, which provides ride hailing services in 29 cities in India, is looking for increasing automation to ensure every ride is a perfect experience. “Right now we get too many calls… using automation and smart data will reduce those errors and is going to reduce our cost, increase our profits and help us grow expenses much more slowly than revenue,” he said. “So business is scaling. I think we are on a very good path. We just need to keep it there.”
India’s potential, he said is enormous. “The technical talent is terrific and when we look at Uber I absolutely want to make a very significant investment in increasing our technical talent locally here.” Also, Indian market is a very demanding market in terms of demanding great service levels at very affordable levels. “And a company that can make their product work in India can make their product work all over the world,” he said.
On hiring plans, Khosrowshahi said Uber will hire “multiples” from where it is now. Speaking on the Japan’s SoftBank being the largest investor in Uber and also being one of the investors of its rival Ola, he said SoftBank, a “big picture investor”, believed that ride sharing space is set for growth. “SoftBank is not thinking of Ola versus Uber, SoftBank is thinking about Ola and Uber versus car ownership, and I think that is pretty darn good bet,” he said.
The Uber CEO further said that business scale-up combined with advent of new technologies will make services such as Uber rival and become a “true alternative” to car ownership.
“People 10-15 years from now…they are not going to buy their own cars. Cars are a huge waste of asset,” he said, pointing out that on a global basis cars were used just four per cent of time, while 96 per cent of the time they were just “sitting around”.
“When cost of our services get closer to car ownership, and I think it is going to be in 5-10 years, we are not talking about a business that is going to grow 50 per cent, we are talking about a business that is going to grow 10-30X,” he added. Khosrowshahi said that the company is “on track” for IPO in 2019, and added that market dynamics and system execution will be amongst the key criteria for the public offer.
“Everything that I see in terms of the growth of the company, profit potential, innovation and new product we are investing in…the business part of company is right on track for the IPO,” he said. Asserting that Uber, which is investing “quite aggressively” will not sacrifice growth and innovation, Khosrowshahi said that the company will be careful not to turn to profits too quickly.
“We are competing in transportation space. This is a five trillion dollar marketplace that we are going after and we account for less than one per cent of that market. So, you will find me investing as much as I can humanly get away with, and still go public,” Khosrowshahi said. Very few companies of Uber’s size were still growing revenue at over 100 per cent, he added.
To another query, Khosrowshahi said that he is inspired by Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder).
“He is a incredible leader… A founder who can scale the way he has scaled and can succeed across different products he has build, is worthy of great admiration. If we could be the Amazon of mobility, we will have a win on our hands,” he said.