It can't be easy being the new kid on the block, especially one from Silicon Valley that has had freakish success so early in the company's history -- we're talking about Uber, of course. But Uber is no exception to the world's rationale of "what have you done for me lately?" In that sense, despite having effectively thrown the taxi cab industry on its head overnight, it has to continue exploring new innovative ideas and potential streams for the next big thing. Uber's recent acquisition is a clue that the company could be expanding into long-haul trucking. While that might have a few investors scratching their heads, we might be missing the point -- let me explain.
Why trucking, and why now?
There's no question that Uber evolving into a business valued at more than $60 billion, and often much higher, seemingly overnight, kept executives at major automakers awake at night. It sent a jolt through Detroit that made major automakers wonder, "Why didn't we think of that?" That shock wave has resulted in a wave of capital investment in many different mobility strategies.
Those investments include Ford Motor Company's (NYSE:F) ambitious headquarters transformation that is intended to attract the type of talent that typically finds itself looking toward Silicon Valley. But that isn't Ford's only talent strategy, as it continues to build on its Research and Innovation Center located in Palo Alto.
General Motors (NYSE:GM) has made many splashes, and most of them revolve around smart mobility projects -- think ride-sharing or ride-hailing projects similar to Uber. For instance, it created its Maven brand to be an umbrella covering all of those projects, including one in Chicago that enables Lyft drivers use a Chevrolet Equinox for $99 per week. GM also invested $500 in Uber competitor Lyft and acquired autonomous technology start-up Cruise Automation for an amount rumored to be around $1 billion.
At a time when Uber has just agreed to pull its operations out of China, freeing up capital to be spent on other projects, the timing was right for a new splash. That splash appears to be Uber's acquisition of Otto -- a start-up company focused on building self-driving trucks -- and it appears to be a bet that autonomous technology might be implemented in the trucking industry before mainstream vehicles.
It's all about connecting dots, right?
We all know what Uber does extraordinarily well: It connects a consumer with a driver willing to take them from point A to point B. In a way, Uber's acquisition of Otto this summer, in a deal valued up to $680 million, makes sense because trucking is similar in the sense that a driver is found to take a freight load from point A to point B -- at least in theory.
While the trucking industry is synonymous with low-margin business, there is upside as the industry is highly fractured, and if Uber could become a dominant player -- which would be a long-term process, for sure -- it could create scale and a similar network effect to the one it possesses in its standard ride-hailing business. Also, if driverless technology is implemented in the trucking industry before mainstream vehicles, it would help margins by reducing one of the largest expenses: drivers. Uber's strategy will have a more immediate goal, as well.
"Uber has already started pitching services to shippers, truck fleets and independent drivers, and the services go well beyond Otto's initially stated goal of outfitting trucks with self-driving technology," Reuters recently reported. "It also plans to compete with the brokers who connect truck fleets and shippers."
The world is so much bigger than ridehailing
This is going to be an intriguing development for potential investors as Uber is undoubtedly eyeballing an IPO at some point in the near future. Rather than investors worrying about what Uber is doing or acquiring next, it may be more important to pin down what you think Uber as a business actually is. Thinking of Uber as a one-hit wonder that disrupted the taxi cab industry isn't going to be accurate for long. Investors should probably think of Uber as a logistics company that's going to continue innovating how to connect products and/or people from point A to point B.
That idea, in the grand scheme of things, should have investors excited about Uber's long-term potential, even if the long-haul trucking industry doesn't.