Uber CEO Says First Flying Car Will Be Ready To Test In Five Years

Uber had said in April last year that it planned to test the first flying car by 2020.

Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., poses for a photograph at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2018. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)
Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive officer of Uber Technologies Inc., poses for a photograph at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2018. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Uber Technologies Inc. plans to test a flying car in five years as the ride-sharing company pushed back its target by two years for what is now the new frontier in mobility.

“With battery technology radically improving in terms of size, power and storage capacity of batteries, we are now in the position for manufacturers to build vehicles that have multiple rotors that create a safe environment for vertical takeoffs,” Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive officer at Uber, said in an interaction with the media in New Delhi. “We think it will take five years or so for these vehicles to be available on a pilot basis.”

Uber hired NASA’s veteran engineer Mark Moore early last year for its flying car initiative dubbed Uber Elevate. In April, the company said it planned to test its first vehicle that could land and take off like helicopters by 2020. That’s when it was rocked by concerns over its work culture and a lawsuit from Google over alleged theft of autonomous driving project documents. That eventually led to the exit of Uber founder Travis Kalanick as CEO.

And it’s not the only one that’s working on a flying car project. Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page is backing two flying car projects, according to Bloomberg. Carmaker Toyota Motor and aircraft maker Airbus too are backing similar projects.

“They will be safe, they will be quieter and we are talking to manufacturers right now and cities on how you build this technology to be safe,” Khosrowshahi said.

He is on his maiden visit to India where Uber is trying to catch up with Ola. Uber partners with over 300,000 drivers in India and runs ride-hailing services in in 29 cities and delivers food through Uber EATS in nine. “Our operations are not profitable today and India accounts for 10 percent of our trips,” said Khosrowshahi.

SoftBank As An Investor

SoftBank Corp. Group completed its $9.3 billion investment in stock in January. The Japanese investor now has stake in both Uber and Ola.

Khosrowshahi said Uber respects Ola as a competitor. “They are a very strong local competitor and that makes us better and makes Ola better.”

Uber doesn’t face any pressure from SoftBank to merge its business in India, he said. “SoftBank is a respected investor but ultimately the decision related to strategy that we undertake are strategies that I am driving as CEO of the company in consult with the board.”

UBER should be actively investing in India and markets like Latin America that have huge growth ahead, he said.

We are investing in India and investing aggressively. We are looking at increasing our driver partners currently at 300,000 to 5 times and 10 times. But it needs investments.
Dara Khosrowshahi, Chief Executive Officer, Uber Technologies Inc.

UBER gets its revenue from the fee its charges its drivers. Globally, the contribution margins continue to improve. “There are markets that are quite profitable, there are markets that we are investing quite aggressively. In the end, I expect the contribution market to improve throughout 2018-19,” he said.

Will Travis Be Back?

Questions remain on Kalanick’s role since he continues on the board after he stepped down as CEO after a spate of controversies last year.

“Travis is a valued board member. And he is looking for entrepreneurial opportunities. I am also changing the direction of the company and how we operate and he respects that,” Khosrowshahi said.

I am not thinking about comebacks. I think Travis is on a very exciting road going forward but that’s his road not mine.
Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Uber Technologies