Despite the fatal crash in Arizona and growing fears that taxi drivers will lose their livelihood, Juan Galiardo says he is optimistic that the transition to driverless will “ultimately be beneficial.”
Back in 2014, Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick explained during the Code Conference in Palo Verdes, Calif., the company’s plans to pursue a complete driverless service. “When there is no other dude [driver] in the car the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle, … bringing the cost of Uber rides below the cost of car ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away,” he said.
As for how he would break the news to Uber drivers about losing their jobs down the road, Kalanick said he would say: “Look, this is the way the world is going. If Uber doesn’t go there, it’s not going to exist either way. ”
Last year, after a series of scandals, Kalanick was ousted as CEO and replaced with Dara Khosrowshahi. Despite the change of leadership in the “ride-sharing” company, the aim to get rid of the “other dude in the car” continues to be Uber’s most important investment for the future.
Last November, Khosrowshahi agreed to buy 24,000 VX90 sport utility vehicles from Volvo to form a fleet of driverless autos, a signal that the company remained committed to autonomous cars under his leadership. The Volvo VX90 is the model Uber is currently using for driverless tests and the one involved in the accident that killed a pedestrian in Temple, Arizona, March 18. Volvo only delivers the standard vehicle. Uber installs the autonomous driving technology.
Uber voluntarily has halted all of its test programs and also has been suspended from testing in Arizona by state authorities.
Asked about this and other Uber plans during a panel on “Business Models in the Sharing Economy” at IESE business school in Barcelona last week, Uber’s General Manager in Spain Juan Galiardo confirmed that the company will continue towards a future of autonomous cars, but said it will take years to make that transition:
“I think driverless cars need to be part of the discussion…. When you look at data — and we need to look at data, not at [our] feelings and emotions for such as important decision — what the international transport forum says is [that] a fleet of driverless cars (in the city of Lisbon where the simulation was run) could move the same amount of people around with 10% of the cars.
Obviously, that is something we need to work for. It will be a very long transition. It won’t happen overnight.”
“I am optimistic that, as has happened in other sectors that faced transitions, the migration, although painful, will ultimately be beneficial. And new jobs will be created maintaining those cars.”
Most of the discussion during the panel session was about the legal challenges facing Uber and AirBnb in several markets, and how both companies are now trying to work together with regulators and cities to operate within the rules.
Uber has recently returned to Barcelona using professional, licensed drivers (VTC licenses as they are known in Spain), after their previous UberPop service — which uses non-licensed drivers — was banned in December 2014 by a Spanish court.
In fact, it was a complaint filed by Barcelona’s taxi association that caused the European Court of Justice to declare Uber a transportation company and not just a marketplace, as the company claims.
Galiardo recognized that Uber has made important missteps in the past and said that if he had been asked at the time, he wouldn’t have started UberPop in Spain.
At the same time, he was very critical of the taxi license system since those licenses, which were originally issued by local governments for free, are now being sold for over €200,000 ($250,000) in cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, and no new licenses are being issued.
Galiardo argued that Uber’s real competitor is the “paradigm of car ownership.” He said that people are starting to realize that having a car that is parked 95% of the time is not sustainable, and that a mix of public transport and ride-share services are the solution for most cities and citizens.