Uber, Google, and Self-Driving Vehicles

Uber raised a new round of funding at a $3.4b pre-money valuation from the likes of Benchmark, TPG, and Google Ventures, with GV being the biggest investor in the round.

I think the growth that Uber has seen over the past 18 months is remarkable, but lets talk about Google and Uber together.

Google is a great strategic investor for Uber specifically (versus a competitor like Hailo) as it works with (private) black car companies primarily to pick up and drop off patrons. A few sources have stated that Google could be working on it’s own car, and eventually a fleet of self-driving taxis for something similar. Understanding the Uber business model would be of great value to them, wouldn’t it?

Some might argue that Uber is nearing a point where it is too big for an acquisition, even by the likes of Google. Google did acquire Motorola Mobility and DoubleClick (both $3b+ deals) however, these acquisitions were part of it’s core business and moat (ads and now mobile), not a Google X or Creative Labs initiative. Because of this it’s more logical to speculate that this could be the start of a partnership, not a behemoth kicking the tires of a potential acquisition.

My opinion is that Google isn’t going to try to purely make it’s own brand of car just for its fleet, but that it will be a concept fleet, that they then can push out and/or license the technology to other manufacturers. There have been talks about Tesla using the tech, however the fleet would need to be larger than normal with Teslas as taxis typically are operating for extended periods of time, and charging times aren’t yet at a point to make this practical. This isn’t a bad thing as there are zero emissions, just something people need to be aware of when discussing such a scenario.

I know that Google Ventures is run separately from Google, however while looking at a market leader in a space that your parent company is developing revolutionary technology for, synergies are hard to ignore. Clearly the opportunities of a self-driving fleet are vast. With a company like Uber who has essentially pioneered auto transportation to mobile devices, there will always be lots of speculation, but when a fund commits over 80% of its annual allocation to one deal, you have to believe there is more to it than just a potential home run investment. 

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