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Report: Uber wanted to partner with Tesla, but Elon Musk shut it down

Published May 17th, 2017 3:37PM EDT
Tesla Vs Uber

With Uber currently embroiled in a high-profile lawsuit with Alphabet over allegations that it misappropriated the company’s advanced self-driving hardware and software, a new book reveals that Uber at one point wanted to partner up with Tesla to help bring its own self-driving ambitions to reality.

According to Adam Lashinsky’s new book Wild Ride, an excerpt of which was obtained by Bloomberg, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in 2016 called up Elon Musk and floated the idea of the two companies working together on autonomous driving technologies. Far from a surprise, Kalanick has made it abundantly clear that Uber needs to be at the forefront of the self-driving revolution, lest its business become less relevant, and in a worse case scenario, obsolete.

Musk, however, wasn’t interested in a partnership with Uber as the company was openly and furiously working on its own solution. What’s more, Tesla’s ideal scenario didn’t involve a partnership with Uber, but rather competing with them.

“I said, ‘Look man, we should partner,’” Kalanick recalled in the book. “Elon spent the rest of the call convincing me that it’s too far out, and it’s not realistic, that I should just stick to what we do best and be focused, or I’m going to f— it all up. That’s when I knew Tesla was competing.”

According to the book, Elon Musk published the second part of Tesla’s master plan just one day after Kalanick called him, a timeline which places the call in July. Upon its release, one of the more noteworthy blurbs from Musk’s missive involved a scenario where Tesla owners could have their car participate in a shared-car service when not in use, clearly taking a page out of Uber’s playbook.

That particular portion of Musk’s master plan reads:

When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.

You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you’re at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.

In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are.

If Lashinsky’s previous book on Apple is any indication, his upcoming book on Uber — set to hit store shelves next week — promises to be highly informative and a must-read. You can pre-order it on Amazon over here.

Incidentally, word broke over the weekend that Lyft, Uber’s primary rival in the ridesharing space, is partnering up with Alphabet to work on self-driving cars.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.