Uber Could Be Stalling Out

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Uber still isn’t doing great, the Fiat Chrysler-Peugeot merger could complicate talks with UAW, state governments are mulling data privacy in cars, and more in The Morning Shift for Tuesday, November 5, 2019.

1st Gear: Uber Is Reaching A Ceiling

Uber loses a lot of money, despite being ubiquitous these days, as it desperately seeks to grow and grow and grow hoping that profitability will be at the end of the rainbow. So far, that isn’t working out, and Bloomberg reports that its latest quarterly numbers are worrying for investors.

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From Bloomberg:

Uber Technologies Inc. disappointed investors with quarterly results showing lackluster gains in bookings and monthly active users, two of the metrics most closely watched by Wall Street.

The ride-hailing company beat estimates for quarterly revenue and loss, improved its annual loss forecast and pledged to turn a profit by 2021. Those weren’t enough to lift the stock, though. Shares were down about 5% in extended trading after the results.

But! Uber is very much going big or going home.

Uber’s business strategy hinges on convincing existing ride-hailing customers to use more services, including bikes, scooters, helicopters and public transportation, as well as food and grocery delivery. Uber’s newer initiatives, including a job matching service for gig workers in Chicago and financial services for drivers, further demonstrate the company’s grand ambitions.

Since going public in May, Uber investors have punished the company for its growth-at-all-costs strategy. The stock closed Monday at $31.08, well below the $45 IPO price.

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Uber also said it expects to turn a profit in 2021, the same expectation its rival Lyft has. This will all end, I suspect, with Uber being one of the world’s biggest companies or one of the greatest modern business disasters.

2nd Gear: FCA And Peugeot’s Merger Hangs Over UAW Contract Talks

Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot are merging, you may have heard, perhaps on this very website. That might be good for both of them in the long run, but in the short-term, they still have a contract with the UAW to negotiate.

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Things will probably go much smoother than they went with GM, and about as smooth as they went with Ford, but, still, the merger is the “elephant in the room” as one expert told the Detroit Free Press:

At the same time, FCA and the UAW are preparing to ramp up contract bargaining as attention shifts from General Motors, where workers have already ratified a new deal following a 40-day strike, and Ford, where workers were to begin voting on their deal this week.

Several experts said they don’t expect a major impact, at least in the short term, on U.S. employment by a merged company, but the deal’s scope and reasoning have implications that highlight the broad changes underway in an industry seeking a path to a future laden with expensive technological requirements. Part of that future is believed to include vehicle production that simply requires fewer workers.

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A lot still remains to be seen, and the merger could very well still fall apart. If I were the UAW, I would take what I can get now, with the future TBD and electric cars needing fewer workers.

3rd Gear: Car Data At Issue In State Legislatures

Modern cars generate a lot of data, whether it be GPS data about where you are and where you’re going or basic information about what’s happening underneath the hood. The data has been the subject of consternation for years, especially as semi-autonomous vehicles have entered the market and a conversation over how and when cars should talk to each other in the name of safety has come to the fore.

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But there are also privacy concerns and right-to-repair issues which, Automotive News reports, has been getting the attention of lawmakers in Massachusetts and California.

The California law requires businesses to “disclose data collection and sharing practices to consumers,” Becerra’s office says. “Consumers have a right to request that their data be deleted. Consumers have a right to opt out of the sale or sharing of their personal information. And businesses are prohibited from selling personal information of consumers under the age of 16 without explicit consent.”

The California State Legislature has approved amendments to the law that affect automakers and dealers. The key change permits automakers and dealers to keep and share vehicle data exclusively for purposes of a warranty or recall-related repair — even if a consumer has asked for the data’s deletion — as long as the data isn’t sold against the consumer’s wishes.

[...]

Massachusetts’ “right to repair” law, enacted in 2013, mandates that vehicle owners and independent repair facilities in the state have access to the same diagnostic and repair information that automakers make available to their dealerships and certified repair facilities.

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This is all admittedly a bit opaque, as the finer points of the law are still being worked out. But I’m flagging because you’re going to be hearing a lot more about these issues in the years to come.

4th Gear: Suzuki Is In Rough Shape

Automakers’ earnings go up and down, and generally they go up, but Suzuki, which lost a third of its profit in its latest quarterly earnings report, might be in trouble long-term. That’s because, as Reuters reports, demand in India is down big.

After decades of robust growth, India’s auto sector has been in a tailspin, hit hard by a liquidity crunch at the country’s shadow banks that has squeezed financing for car sales as well as by higher taxes and a weak rural economy.

“We no longer think that growth in India will be an uninterrupted move upwards,” President Toshihiro Suzuki told an earnings briefing.

“We anticipate hills and valleys, so we need to focus on recovering from the current valley we’re in to ensure sustainable growth.”

Operating profit for Japan’s fourth-largest automaker tumbled 32% to 55.9 billion yen ($514 million) in the July-September quarter from the same period a year earlier. A drop in domestic output due to the need to improve its inspection processes after a mileage scandal also hurt.

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Suzuki has boxed itself in somewhat by going so hard on India, and I can’t get over its president’s quote there admitting that the company assumed the market in India would be “an uninterrupted move upwards.” Even in the best of times that seems like a leap.

5th Gear: Peugeot Is Coming Back To The U.S. But Thoughtfully This Time

Fiat Chrysler and Peugeot are merging, you may have read already previously in this blog. Automotive News says that its success will hinge on how it deals with dealerships.

[Larry Dominique] and [PSA Group CEO Carlos Tavares] are convinced that the current retail business model isn’t sustainable. Profit is simply too hard to come by in too many dealerships. Ubiquitous stair-step incentives damage brands they’re designed to help, and many dealers depend on them to stay in the black.

Among the questions Dominique is asking: Do service operations need to be mated to sales facilities? Is it possible to create a destination that car shoppers want to visit, where they might even find delight in experiencing “the brand?” How can dealers’ startup costs be reduced? Might technological tools be used as a way around oppressive fixed costs while also appealing to a generation of digital-savvy consumers?

One thing that has been decided is that PSA will have retail partners when it enters the U.S. It won’t go the Tesla route and sell directly to consumers.

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I feel like people have been trying to solve the can-dealerships-actually-be-cool-and-good question my entire life, and no one has ever been able to make dealerships cool or good. I would also think that Peugeot’s success here would hinge more on if they made well-built cars and trucks and SUVs that look good and are priced right and people actually wanted to buy, as opposed to the concerns of some dealers. But it’s not my money.

Reverse: American Warships Go To China

From The New York Times, in 1986:

As brass bands played, three United States Navy warships, each flying China’s flag, tied up here today and became the first American vessels to visit China since the Communists took power.

A gray early-morning haze shrouded the harbor as guns from the arriving American ships fired a 21-gun salute in honor of the Chinese Navy. Then, nudged gently by large white tugboats, the guided-missile frigate Rentz loomed through the mist with sailors in blue pea jackets and white caps standing at attention along her entire length.

Three elderly Chinese ships, a destroyer, a frigate and a submarine, were moored nearby with dozens of colorful signal flags flapping from their rigging. Chinese sailors stood at attention on deck while a United States Navy band aboard the guided-missile cruiser Reeves struck up ‘’Happy Days Are Here Again.’’

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Neutral: Will Uber Still Be Around In 10 Years?

I think so, but only because I think Silicon Valley is an inherently irrational place, with a bottomless appetite for “disruption” as opposed to “profit.”

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About the author

Erik Shilling

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.