It's barely summer and already Uber has had one of the worst years in memory for a high-profile company.
It started in January when the ride-hailing service was accused of breaking a strike by New York taxi drivers protesting the Trump travel ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Uber suspended its surge pricing for travel to and from JFK, and though it maintains the move was not an attempt to break the strike or support the travel ban, a #DeleteUber campaign ensued on social media with as many as half a million people deleting their accounts with the ride-hailing service.
Though Uber may have been unfairly punished in that instance, the situation was evidence of how much a company's reputation matters in today's politically heated environment. Uber had already gained notoriety for its cutthroat competitiveness and abusive corporate behavior, so the accusation that it was engaging in strike breaking seemed entirely believable to the many customers who chose to delete the app. In the aftermath, Kalanick, who had been viewed as an apologist for President Trump due to his participation in the president's Economic Advisory Council, resigned his position on the panel.
Things continued to spiral downward in February when former Uber engineer Susan Fowler publicly lambasted the company for an environment rife with sexual harassment and gender discrimination, confirming other reports of the company's frat-boy culture.
In the subsequent months, Jeff Jones, the No. 2 executive at the company, quit; Uber became embroiled in a lawsuit for allegedly stealing technology from Alphabet's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) self-driving car division, Waymo; and The New York Times reported that the company had subverted regulatory agencies through a program called Greyball, which denied rides to regulators and others the company deemed in "violation of its terms of service."
Its troubles came to a head last week when former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is now advising the company, issued a report recommending a number of changes, including a shift in senior leadership, better human resources, and more diversity, among others. A board member also resigned after making a sexist comment, and, most importantly, Kalanick announced that he would take a leave of absence, which follows not only the turmoil at the company but also the death of his mother in a boating accident that also seriously injured his father.
As pressure builds against the company, Uber's biggest rivals stand to benefit. Here are three stocks that could take advantage of its ongoing challenges.
The only pure-play food delivery stock on the market, GrubHub (NYSE:GRUB) competes directly with the UberEats food delivery concept. The company, which also owns Seamless, MenuPages, and a number of other delivery apps, claims the "most comprehensive network of restaurant partners and largest active diner base" of any takeout marketplace. As of its most recent report, GrubHub had 8.75 million active diners. However, according to a study by ValuePenguin, UberEats was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. for food delivery apps in Apple's App store, while GrubHub came in No. 8. The research did not note results for GrubHub's other brands, but it shows the superiority of UberEats at least terms of downloads. UberEats also scored a key partnership with McDonald's earlier this year; more than 1,000 US McDonald's locations now offer delivery through UberEats.
UberEats' app ranking has slipped over the last three months, which could be a sign that customers are embracing other platforms. Any weakness could represent an opportunity for GrubHub.
2. General Motors
General Motors (NYSE:GM) competes with Uber in two key ways. Conventional wisdom sees ride-hailing apps like Uber as a threat to automakers because they reduce the need to purchase vehicles. But GM is also a partner with Lyft, the No. 2 U.S. ride-hailing service, and owns a 9% stake in it.
The automaker has been working on its own self-driving technology -- it just tested mass-production of self-driving Chevy Bolts, rolling 130 off an assembly line -- and the company hopes GM technology will eventually power a fleet of autonomous Lyft vehicles. The two companies have a number of ongoing experiments, including a program that allows Lyft drivers to rent new GM vehicles, and partnerships on autonomous driving technology. Simply by virtue of its stake in Lyft, GM stands to benefit from any of Uber's slip-ups, but anything that slows the growth of top ride-hailing service would also seem to aid to GM as a carmaker as well, giving it time to further develop its own autonomous-vehicle technology.
Google-parent Alphabet is considered a leader in autonomous vehicle technology and its self-driving division, Waymo, has also partnered with Lyft following its legal dispute with Uber.
Alphabet has locked horns with Uber a number of times, as the smaller company had previously raided it for engineers, and the former partners have long been seen as opposing poles in the autonomous driving revolution. While Google is the leader in tech, Uber has the best business use for autonomous vehicles, which would save it billions by making drivers obsolete.
With its test launch last year of self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, Uber was the first to offer a real-world trial of the technology, though its relationship with the city has since soured. Alphabet is now testing its own autonomous vehicles in Phoenix.
The troubles at Uber therefore bode well for Alphabet as the ride-hailing service has been the biggest thorn in its side in recent years as the two battle over the emerging technology.
Still, while all the negative press has damaged Uber's reputation among the chattering classes, the business itself is far from imploding. In fact, in New York, Uber's busiest domestic market, its number of daily trips reached a new record in May at 291,000, about triple what it was two years ago, and nearly eclipsing the number of yellow cab rides. Meanwhile, Lyft, despite a pop after the #DeleteUber campaign, provided only about 60,000 rides per day in New York last month.
Those figures seem to signal that it may be more difficult to unseat Uber than the recent news has indicated. However, the transportation service continues to lose money, heading for around $3 billion in losses this year, and the reports on its culture have made it more difficult for the company to hire new talent, especially women. Kalanick's leave of absence also creates a big question mark as to the company's next steps.
It's too soon to say whether Uber will indeed implode, but there are plenty of opportunities for GrubHub, General Motors, and Alphabet to benefit if it does.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Jeremy Bowman owns shares of Apple and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.