Author Topic: UBER - Uber Technologies  (Read 12596 times)

ajc

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UBER - Uber Technologies
« on: May 13, 2019, 02:28:29 PM »

Made this a decent-sized position today. Still at 40% cash in my portfolio and I think tech IPO valuations remain largely bubblicious (https://twitter.com/tonyjclayton/status/1118205158721249280), but Uber's valuation seems reasonable here.
Might make it a larger position if it goes lower. Also, I might be earlyish. Usually I wait six months until the lock-up expires, but this sell-off looked like a good entry-point.
BTW, apologies for another unicorn thread. If the recent ones on Jumia, Pinterest, - and now Uber - don't concern you, nothing will.


Rough math & quick take

For a $63b market cap company, their total debt is relatively small. After the IPO, they now have $14b in cash. Their 15.4% stake in Didi is worth $12b and their 23.2% stake in Grab is worth $3b. Depending on how you frame it, you're paying 3x to 4x sales for the world's dominant Transport-as-a-Service (TaaS) business.

So far as competitive advantages go, I think scale matters on both the driver and rider side. For drivers, it's the most reliable and convenient go-to for a little extra income or employment. For riders, it has the greatest ubiquity and fastest pick-up times. This is true in the US and almost everywhere else.
I think size also gives Uber a very strong hand to deal with any future autonomous vehicle (AV) threat, since they are well positioned to use their equity for acquisitions and this will only be more true the bigger they get.

Basically, Uber has become synonymous with ride-hailing globally. New CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has also started to genuinely rehabilitate their image during his first 18 months on the job. They're not perfect (US driver protests, etc), but I think it's fair to say decent progress has been made. It's also worth noting that 75% of Uber's trips happen outside of the US. In the developing world anyway (India, South Africa, etc), working for Uber is still a very well-paying gig (https://www.bloomberg.com/amp/opinion/articles/2019-05-02/what-uber-left-behind-in-asia).

This ex-US strength and scale is also useful for Uber in a few ways. First, the AV threat is not really real there. Even if Waymo or Tesla hit their uber-aggressive (sorry, couldn't resist) goals for widescale AV deployment in the next few years, that would only be a story for the major urban environments in the US and to a certain extent Canada and Europe. Uber's huge markets across India, South America, and Africa, would basically be untouched since drivers in those places can't afford the AV cars in question.

And, that's not even addressing the issue of practical constraints given that total global production is only 70 million cars annually. Even if every car produced on Earth in 2020 were magically to become fully-autonomous from day one, those vehicles would still take a while to put a dent in the estimated 1b+ passenger cars in use worldwide today. So, I like that as a defensive aspect to Uber's business where even if the absolute worst AV case played out over the next 5 years for them in the developed world, they'd still have the time and scale to adjust and fight back by relying on their non-AV business.
Personally, I think the threat posed by Waymo and Tesla over the next 5 years is somewhat overstated but it's good to have a strong insurance policy to work with.

Another potential benefit I see for Uber in the developing world, is that if they run their US and European operations well that could also mean they'd have extra cash flow to pay drivers more and charge riders less in the developing world. Because companies like Ola in India or 99 in Brazil don't have a presence in the wealthiest global markets, that could end up giving Uber the deep pockets and financial firepower they need to make their platform more attractive to drivers and riders than their poorer, local rivals across those countries. In this way, Uber could well use its US and European businesses to cement its global dominance.

On the topic of cutting their losses substantially and becoming a profitable company, that question was addressed generally by management on Friday (see 4mins 15secs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=538rXsLnsYc). The interviewer noted that Lyft sees 2019 as their peak spending year and while not committing to 2019 being the same for Uber, Khosrowshahi did state that getting to profitability and ending any and all reliance on capital markets was now a key priority for Uber.

A few more remarks on why it's perhaps better to own the largest player in the space globally, how Uber can solidify their position, and what future growth opportunities they have....

UberEats is the obvious one. It's already a bigger business than Lyft. Expanding that in every territory gives riders more reason to stick with what they know and does the same for drivers. It also allows Uber to create a grand Amazon Prime-like subscription package where you get better rates for doing all your TaaS business through them (like Ride Pass and their Eats subscription combined). Offering family packages, like you get for your cellphone contracts would help retain users and drivers. Loyalty points redeemable across the platform are another option. Discounts for Uber users when riding in international markets would be another incentive that could help shut out Lyft.

Another bunch of options is based mostly on how Gojek operates in SE Asia. With Gojek, you can order groceries, a masseuse, nail technician, house cleaner, and various other things or folks to your door. With its rating system for quality control and its speed and omnipresence, Uber is in some ways the perfect platform for new gig-economy businesses to be built on top of. Of course, Uber would be able to take a reasonable cut.
Josh Constine has also written recently about how Uber has some legitimate potential as an ad-platform, starting first with their Eats business (https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/10/uber-ads/) and the promotion of restaurants on it.

Finally, I think electric vehicles (EVs) are more likely to become widespread before AVs do. Studies have shown (https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/electric-cars-could-save-uber-and-lyft-drivers-5200-a-year) that EVs can save drivers more than $5000 per year in fuel (charging is cheaper) and upkeep costs (EVs have fewer moving and breakable parts). This could help alleviate tensions between drivers and Uber over the next decade in markets such as the US and EU, since it would mean more money to go around.

Overall even with a number of current drivers striking and a few concerns around slowing growth, I still think Uber is almost uniquely placed to build a substantial TaaS business globally around its core ride-sharing proposition as well as its Eats business. You also get its Freight business and self-driving unit thrown in, and I think their current Didi, Grab, and Yandex stakes could easily be worth far more 5 years from now. Grab especially, given that it's still growing revenue at 100% per year.
Essentially, I think this is a reasonable price to buy the stock at for a long-term investor.


Economics & the business model

The write-ups and threads that probably most informed my view on Uber's economics and financial model, were:

This by CB Insights -
https://www.cbinsights.com/research/report/how-uber-makes-money/

These three threads by @Valuetrap13 on the financials of their main US rival, Lyft -
https://twitter.com/Valuetrap13/status/1111695360467062784
https://twitter.com/Valuetrap13/status/1112047689183698945
https://twitter.com/Valuetrap13/status/1112870126616002561

This in-depth take by @TurnerNovak covering Uber and their opportunity set -
https://twitter.com/TurnerNovak/status/1120539665512189957


« Last Edit: May 25, 2019, 07:40:00 AM by ajc »


johnny

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #1 on: May 13, 2019, 03:33:42 PM »
I don't feel comfortable with the scale/network-effects argument that I think Uber is promoting here.

The network effects in this industry are hyper-local. Uber's 10,000 active drivers in LA don't give it any real advantage in Phoenix--except perhaps when LA-natives are landing in PHX. But I'm not sure much enduring pricing power is to be gained from having the highest ride-sharing Q score. International travelers are already used to a process of figuring out what the best ridesharing app is for a specific country--I could see this becoming a more common routine for intra-national travel as well.

Better OS-level intermediation could make this even easier. I don't mean Apple/Google operating their own fleets, but simply going further in baking ride-sharing ordering (and price/ETA comparison) into their native maps apps. This already exists in a very hobbled form. Apple has the feature somewhat buried in the app, and it requires that you have already downloaded and registered in each app, in addition to explicitly opting-in for each service. So, as currently designed, it doesn't really serve the purpose at all. But I think it does illustrate the risk quite well.

The current limitations of the Maps-integrations might have a lot to do with the fact that the current ride-sharing providers understand that, since they have no ownership or control over the vehicles, and are quite literally sharing driver-partners, their only differentiation in the user-experience is on the app experience side. That is not a stable equilibrium though, because I can think of a few potential competitors who might have the exact inverse assessment: manufacturers.

How much does Uber's global scale help them when Ford decides to dump 1,000 Navigators, 3,000 Flexes, and 6,000 Fiestas into, say, Houston? For an industry that occasionally finds it has ten or twenty thousand extra vehicles just lying around it should be a somewhat disconcerting prospect. And if, upon landing in Houston, my Maps app is able to present and price the Ford network to me without forcing me to go through the Identify/Download/Register/Order app-flow, shouldn't we expect commodity pricing to become the order of the day in that market?

And if it can happen in one market, can't it happen in all?
« Last Edit: May 13, 2019, 03:37:07 PM by johnny »

Spekulatius

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #2 on: May 13, 2019, 03:38:56 PM »
One of my concerns would be that both Uber and Lyft spent the cash from the IPOs on a turf war of driver incentives and rider discounts.
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Jurgis

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #3 on: May 13, 2019, 08:31:18 PM »
I'm still getting Uber discount offers although they are somewhat restricted and localized.

I think there is some stickiness to the app even if there's local competition. As a user you know the interface, you have the account set up, you know what to expect. Why would you install some other app unless it was radically cheaper? There's some segment that might install additional apps for 10% discount. It's unclear how big that segment is.

Internationally, Uber has some countries where it's the only choice. Local taxis still provide the rate ceiling though. I used Uber in Lithuania a lot. It's very cheap - but taxis are cheap too, so Uber can't really charge US or Western European prices.

Predictable and low wait times would be a benefit. Unfortunately, unlike dense urban areas in suburbs these predictions are rather imprecise. I'd be happy to choose Lyft vs. Uber if I really knew that Lyft will take 6 minutes to pickup vs 12 minutes for Uber. But in reality predictions are not true until you request a ride and may vary quite a lot from estimates. Boston suburb is not boonies, but I've had a situation where there was a single driver (!) within 15 minute radius on a perfectly normal day and time... I'm not sure that coverage without running up prices is a simple problem to solve though.

Edit: BTW in Lithuania pretty much all taxis and Uber's are Priuses. Gas prices being 2x US price does that.
« Last Edit: May 14, 2019, 06:28:57 AM by Jurgis »
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ajc

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2019, 01:01:00 PM »

@johnny

I think the job of the GM, F, and FCAU bosses is obviously to sell more cars, so it sounds unrealistic to say they're going to stick 10 000 spare vehicles in Houston so they can be used for ride-sharing. By flooding the market with that service you're 100% encouraging people there to no longer buy their own vehicles. By the end of the year, overall dealership sales in Houston drop from 50 000 vehicles to 25 000 for that manufacturer. The next step is expanding that strategy across Texas and the rest of NAFTA. They'd destroy their entire North American business. I think a Detroit CEO who tries that would be fired almost instantly and will never work for a traditional auto major again, anywhere.

That's not to mention the dealerships and their owners who are a crucial partner for GM, F, and FCAU, and have invested lots of time and money into their businesses. Imagine you recently bought a dealership in Houston with all the associated upfront costs and then 6 months later HQ decides they're going to flood your local market with vehicles for ride-sharing, making it impossible for you to sell the cars in your lot and recoup your investment? If any of the Detroit 3 wanted a bunch of apoplectic dealers, that's the best way to do it.

Tesla could theoretically do this since they're still small enough to not cannibalize their existing sales, they have a flexible start-up mentality and perhaps business model, and they don't rely on a dealer network. Then again, they lack cash so they need to sell cars not dump them, they can't afford right now to look like buyer demand is falling off a cliff, and if a play like this flopped completely because of poor execution it would invite even more difficult questions about Musk at a time when he's on thin ice.

On top of that, there are going on a million Uber drivers in the US at the moment so even if all the stars did align just perfectly and Tesla successfully deployed a certain amount of their annual production in this way with none of their usual, basic execution problems, it would still take 5 or 10 years for them to outmatch Uber scale-wise in the US alone, given current production rates.

Your point on network effects is fair. My bad for over-emphasizing that aspect when I wrote my pitch. In Uber's defense I don't think they're the ones pushing that argument hard, that was more me being an idiot. If I was guesstimating though I'd say maybe 10% of Uber users and drivers are in a situation where they do actually do enough travelling for work or fun for that effect to be meaningful. Maybe if you include kids who've gone off to college elsewhere considering they probably use Uber the most, then perhaps that number actually goes up to 15%. That's a total thumbsuck admittedly.

Also, I'd say users who move across national or international geographies aren't actually that interested in looking for real ride-sharing alternatives outside of the major providers. The image below shows only 2% of US rides are not handled by Uber or Lyft and this has been steady for years. Maybe investors like us who prefer to compare every stock to every other one are likely to overestimate that shopping-around diligence in regular people. I'd say Jurgis makes a good point too, about how you get familiar with the app and don't want to keep filling in your data on other ones if you've already got two downloaded. At any rate, the graph shows around 98% of American riders only want to do one comparison then ride.

I should've emphasized switching costs at the local level and how I think Uber will just incentivize users more and more over time to use their app pretty much exclusively. I don't think Amazon has particularly strong network effects either, but with a very wide selection, reasonable prices, super fast shipping, plus extras like movies, shows, music, etc, all wrapped up in an affordable Prime subscription, it can incentivize a lot of regular (even practically exclusive) use and loyalty.

In a similar way, I think it's sensible to say Uber emphasizes availability and speed wherever you go, together with a relatively safe and uniform experience - and usually delivers on those variables better than anyone else - plus through Rewards (https://www.uber.com/za/en/u/rewards/), Jump bikes and scooters (https://techcrunch.com/2019/02/08/ubers-jump-bikes-are-seeing-high-utilization-rates/), integrating with train and bus services (https://techcrunch.com/2019/04/30/assimilate/), etc, it seems clear they're solidly ahead of everyone in making a seamless, across-the-board solution for all your transport needs.

My thinking is that this all leads to a future where Uber bundles this stuff together for a monthly subscription fee and then gives riders and drivers all sorts of loyalty points (like you can currently earn) that can be redeemed for Uber Cash, priority pick-ups at airports, free Eats delivery, and maybe air miles if they do a deal with a few airlines (they have a great CEO for that). So, I see that solution for all your mobility needs in a monthly subscription package with some sweet loyalty point rewards going a long way towards entrenching Uber's position and driving most user behavior in their direction.

I think all that kind of eventually leaves disintermediation of the app by Google or Apple as less likely than might be assumed. I mean how good are Google or Apple at stopping you from using your Prime subscription if you want to shop online or watch a movie? Not very. Not even close.
People might price compare in Google Maps exclusively some day, but if they already have their Uber monthly subscription/family plan, and they know they earn loyalty points, air miles, and free Eats deliveries the more they use it, then how likely are they to switch even in the improbable event that ACME ride-sharing corporation can offer you a car for 50 cents cheaper though you'll just have to trust their driver supply is large and vetted enough to arrive at you sooner and safer than Uber.

On the topic of how their 10 000 drivers in LA help them in Phoenix, I'm with you that there's not much network effect but I would argue the economies of scale they have can potentially help them defend their overall dominance. I mean, if a person agrees that Uber's model can lead them to becoming solidly cash flow positive then the amount of cash flow that would produce would allow Uber to see off any competitors who decided to go after any specific metro market. Take Phoenix for example...

ACME ridesharing corporation thinks it's a great idea to start a competing ridesharing business there in the year 2025 when Uber is generating some real cash flow.
So, ACME raises a bunch of money and undercuts Uber by 50 cents per ride.
Well in that situation, Uber could simply drop their prices by 1 dollar per ride in that market for the next 24 months and bleed ACME to death.
In other words, now that Uber has reached scale, they are in a position where having a nicely cash flow positive business allow them to really defend their business from anyone who wanted to attack without really being hurt too much in the process. So yeah, it's not a network effect but it's still great to have those 10 000 drivers in LA and another 15 000 in New York, etc, bringing cash through the door so that if you have to fight a price battle in Phoenix then you'll have the means to do it.

Anyway, I should've emphasized the way Uber will likely incentivize users to almost exclusively stick with their app though I do think there are some network effects for a certain percentage of users and with potential future airline deals and increased personal travel that effect might grow a little stronger.
Also, I think the scale Uber has - in the event they get cash flow positive sooner rather than later - will allow them to starve any smaller competitors who try to come after them by discounting their offerings in specific markets. I think that gives them a pretty nice defensible position once they stop losing money.


@Spekulatius

Lyft has already said this year will be their biggest for spending and they'll bring it down going forward (see the video I linked to in my original post).
That means fewer subsidies and price cuts in future.
Also, Uber has better economies of scale and already pays their drivers way better (https://www.thestreet.com/personal-finance/education/how-much-do-uber-lyft-drivers-make-14804869) so it's probably preferable to bet on Uber since they'd have more competitive leverage.



wabuffo

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2019, 01:22:23 PM »
Ajc - have you studied the actual earnings of Uber drivers and what the effects will be as Uber tries to end driver subsidies and/or take a greater portion of the fare?  It seems to me that there is a very limited number of drivers willing to accept bottom-10 percentile wages (before even accounting for vehicle expenses).  I've seen some serious academic studies that seem to indicate that Uber is taking advantage of informational assymetries initially about true costs per mile but that drivers are becoming more aware of how little they are making.

You add that to the large subsidies to riders, and the high overhead costs of Uber vs local cab companies - its hard to see a path to ever getting to acceptable returns to shareholders. 

wabuffo

Spekulatius

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2019, 04:02:37 AM »
AJC and wabuffo, thanks dort he pro and con discussion, itís quite helpful. It seems to me that from the business models presented here, itís one of the tougher and higher risk ones. Compared to for example SPOT, I find it much easier to construct and investment case with the latter. Both have their challenges as marketplaces (content generators, vs drivers, lower gross margins ), but SPOT really doesnít have the cash burn that Uber and Lyft have.. I donít own either one, but I think I would rather bet on SPOT than the ride hailers at this point.
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ajc

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2019, 05:04:27 AM »


Ajc - have you studied the actual earnings of Uber drivers and what the effects will be as Uber tries to end driver subsidies and/or take a greater portion of the fare?  It seems to me that there is a very limited number of drivers willing to accept bottom-10 percentile wages (before even accounting for vehicle expenses).  I've seen some serious academic studies that seem to indicate that Uber is taking advantage of informational assymetries initially about true costs per mile but that drivers are becoming more aware of how little they are making.

You add that to the large subsidies to riders, and the high overhead costs of Uber vs local cab companies - its hard to see a path to ever getting to acceptable returns to shareholders. 

wabuffo



wabuffo, I tend to use data from folks like the Ridesharing Guy and Ridester (https://www.ridester.com/uber-lyft-driver-costs-and-expenses/) more because then you also get to hear what drivers are saying about their experiences but I'm aware of the studies you mentioned.
Uber earnings definitely differ based on location globally. The same is true of places in the US. If you go through this really excellent ridesharing report - http://www.businessofapps.com/data/uber-statistics/ - there's a line that states "based on (a) survey of 1,200 drivers conducted in early 2018 by The Rideshare Guy show median Uber earnings of $15-19.99 before expenses. The same report found that drivers believed they should be earning 31% more."

Also, if you look at that same report you'll see it's actually less than 10% of drivers who are strongly dissatisfied with their experience working for Uber and that percentage is dropping. You can also see that around 75% of Uber drivers are either neutral, somewhat satisfied, or strongly satisfied with their experience driving for Uber.
Further, while 55% of drivers say pay matters most to them, there are also 35% of drivers who say flexible work hours matter most.

Anyway, I'll stop going on about the report (http://www.businessofapps.com/data/uber-statistics/) though I do think it's super insightful, full of useful data, and everyone should read it.
Either way, while I think it's worth noting that there are definitely drivers who earn very little and feel like they're getting ripped off, they tend to be a vocal minority and the reality is that the vast majority of Uber drivers seem to be okay with the platform.

It's also true (see image below) that outside the US, Uber drivers get paid multiples of whatever their local minimum wage is. Anywhere between 3x to 8x that number really.
This great thread (https://twitter.com/modestproposal1/status/1118250501320204290) about Uber's financials more generally, tries to breakdown the overall business into smaller pieces.
One thing I'd note is that if drivers internationally (which is where 53% of Uber's revenues already come from) are being paid such high multiples of their local minimum wages, then once those markets get closer to maturity it seems theoretically possible that Uber could make substantial cuts there to drive profitability.
Also, given that the developing world is growing GDP faster and is far less aggressive about setting the minimum wage bar high because they prioritize job creation, I think this makes well more than half of Uber's business going forward very different from their US or European markets.

Back to those 10% of US drivers who are very unhappy since I think Uber's developing world business has much less to worry about on the future profitability front.
I'd say that pushing EVs is a big part of the solution.
As I noted in my original post, an EV can save a ridesharing driver over $5000 per year in expenses (https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/electric-cars-could-save-uber-and-lyft-drivers-5200-a-year#gs.c1mqyy).
Fortunately, US drivers who are unhappy about their pay will be some of the best positioned to take advantage of this fact because North America will likely receive a significant share of new EV production over the next 5 to 10 years.
If you just use incredibly rough numbers, Uber has around 1 million US drivers. The 10% of truly dissatisfied ones account for about 100 000 people.
Tesla's Model 3 production this year alone will probably be around 400 000 vehicles.
Further, VW is due to go into EV production in Zwickau by the end of 2019 at a plant that will produce over 300 000 EVs per year (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-14/vw-cranks-up-electric-car-plants-to-overtake-tesla-s-capacity).
Tesla has recently opened a leasing program for Model 3's in the US that starts at $399 per month (https://electrek.co/2019/05/03/tesla-model-3-monthly-lease-payment-399/). I wouldn't be surprised if VW did something similar starting in 2020.
In other words, the opportunity for US Uber drivers to cut their costs by thousands of dollars each year is already basically here and the company is attempting to push more drivers into owning an EV (https://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-uber-electric-vehicles-20180619-story.html).

One other way Uber is trying to assist and add value for drivers while at the same time making them more loyal to the platform, is via their new Driver Rewards Program which gives you cash back, free roadside assistance, and 100% tuition coverage, among other things (see 2nd image below). I'm not sure what the dollar value of that stuff is, but I like how Uber is using its scale to negotiate benefits for its drivers.

Finally, maybe the best thread I've seen so far on the Uber business model is the one Turner Novak did (https://twitter.com/TurnerNovak/status/1120539665512189957). If you scroll down through it, you'll see the Uber Jump electric bike and scooter opportunity is potentially very big since in the US most urban trips are actually less than 3 miles long.
The economics of bike/scooter trips have far higher margins because you don't have to pay a driver.
If Uber can figure that business out, like it seems they're starting to (https://techcrunch.com/2019/02/08/ubers-jump-bikes-are-seeing-high-utilization-rates/), then that can make their US business look far better.

Overall, I think Uber does have issues in the US for some drivers but there are technologies arriving that can address this on both the EV and electric bike/scooter side.
Also, I think international will become an ever bigger part of their revenues and they seemingly have a good amount of room to cut there in order to become profitable.



DTEJD1997

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2019, 07:48:27 AM »
AJC:

I don't think UBER has anywhere near the capacity to cut wages INTERNATIONALLY than you think.  The "high" foreign wages have a component of depreciation & wear & tear on the vehicle.  Those international drivers are getting "higher" wages because they are supplying a vehicle to drive with.

There is also NO WAY that only about 10% of Uber drivers in USA are upset with wages.  I know several attorneys that drive Uber, and they are either upset OR neutral on pay.  Several of them pretty much only drive at peak times to increase their income.

If Uber & Lift stop their incentives to start driving ($500 for 100 rides), then they are going to have very few new drivers, maybe not even enough to replace those that leave.

I also don't think that USA drivers are suddenly going to start making $$$ by switching over to EV.  I am going to guess that the average value of a vehicle being driven in USA is $10k to $15k.  That is much less capital outlay than $35k+ for an EV.  EV may also have recharging problems?  Range on TSLA cars is about 250 miles?  Is that sufficient for a 8-10-12 hour driving shift?  Maybe?  Maybe not?

We will see, but I am going to hazard a guess that UBER is going to have start serious inroads towards profitability in the next 12 months or so.

ajc

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Re: UBER - Uber Technologies
« Reply #9 on: May 15, 2019, 10:31:59 AM »

DTEJD1997, I live in South Africa. Uber here pays 5x the minimum wage on average. In Brazil it's 3x and in India 8x (see image below). I can tell you from personal experience that they almost certainly can make substantial cuts here to what they pay and it would still be a very good gig for locals.

Down the road from me there's a Shoprite, which is sort of our version of a Walmart (US) or Tesco (United Kingdom). They pay their cashiers and shelf-stackers R3500 (US$250) per month, which is a little over minimum wage here. Uber drivers on the other hand can pull down R15000 per month, without too much hassle, if they work full-time. This checks out from the experiences I've had using the service and seeing what was paid, how it was split, etc. Here's a recent Mail & Guardian article (https://mg.co.za/article/2018-06-18-11-uber-taxify-drivers-v-corporate) also, which is sort of our version of Britain's Guardian newspaper, saying "drivers make about R16 000 a month". The same article claims fuel and insurance cost are about R5000 per month in total.

To give you an idea of what that means, the average salary for an attorney in Cape Town is R17000 and the average for a software engineer is R24000 even though this city is home to one of Africa's most well-paying legal communities and our startup ecosystem is perhaps the most important and robust on the entire continent. In other words, Uber drivers here get paid as much or nearly as much as some of the best jobs across the country. All this, and you don't even need a college degree to do it.

Not that Uber would, but even if they did pay drivers here R8000 instead of R16000 per month, those drivers would still be earning just less than minimum wage after paying for fuel and insurance. That's in a country where the national unemployment rate is 27% by the way, so this is still undoubtedly a place where any job is better than none. For perspective, today you'd have no problem buying an Uber-ready 2016 model used car here in good condition for around R75000 (just over US$5000). Drivers here making R16000 per month wouldn't seem to have nearly the issues with depreciation versus earnings that you're theorizing.

By the way, India is an even bigger market and at 8x the minimum wage as their Uber pay average, they potentially have even more room for cuts. I'm not saying drivers in SA or India would like it, in fact it'd piss them off incredibly, but if Uber is smart and increases pay at only 3% a year when inflation often runs at 6% or more in fast-growing, developing economies, they could increase their margins over time while still paying a very good wage to drivers here over the long-term.

The 8% strongly dissatisfied figure was from a survey by The Rideshare Guy (see here https://therideshareguy.com/2018-uber-and-lyft-driver-survey-results-the-rideshare-guy/) which came from the excellent Business of Apps report (http://www.businessofapps.com/data/uber-statistics/). That number was down from the previous year. There were also 17% somewhat dissatisfied drivers. 75% of drivers were either neutral or satisfied. The survey had over 1000 respondents and The Rideshare Guy blog is perhaps the best and most popular online blog for Uber, Lyft, and Doordash drivers who want to learn about which service is best, how to make more money, etc.

That survey could well be skewed since that blog is visited by people who prefer to find ways to save money and increase earnings rather than sit around complaining, but then again there will always be those who do.
I don't mean to say Uber shouldn't try improve things for their US drivers because some of the problems you mention are clearly real and deserve proper attention, but it's worth noting that with 1 million US drivers and 250 000 of them in the dissatisfied bucket you are naturally going to hear a lot of vocal people on social media and elsewhere making a lot of loud criticisms. Again, I think it's best for Uber to try address them as effectively as possible, but I also think no matter what you do there will always be those who are unhappy.
I think this will remain the case while ICE vehicles are so heavily used on Uber, since I'm not sure their economics sometimes make sense. Best for those folks, I believe, to switch to EVs as soon as possible.

The article I posted about the Tesla Model 3 leasing (https://electrek.co/2019/05/03/tesla-model-3-monthly-lease-payment-399/) says you need $4500 cash down and then the lease payments are $399 monthly. There's no need to pay the $35000 upfront. Just over time. The average range of Uber earnings in the US seems to be $15 to $25 per hour before expenses (https://www.ridester.com/how-much-do-uber-drivers-make/). At $15/hour on the very low end, if you drive 40 hours per week you make $600 per week and $2600 per month.
Charging a Tesla at home during off-peak hours will give you a full charge for the whole of the next day and it'll cost you $13 for the charge (https://www.solarreviews.com/blog/how-much-does-it-cost-to-charge-a-tesla-is-it-the-same-as-the-cost-to-charge-other-electric-vehicles). That represents a car charging bill of just under $400 per month. A full Model 3 charge lasts 220 miles for the standard range model and 310 miles for the long range model. Working 40 hours per week for Uber likely means daily miles driven of around 150 (https://ride.guru/lounge/p/how-many-miles-do-uber-and-lyft-drivers-put-on-their-cars), so no need for any interim charging expenses.

At this point, after paying your lease of $400, and your charging costs of $400, you're left with $1800 from your monthly Uber earnings to pay insurance ($1300 annually according to Ridester) and license, registration, plus vehicle taxes ($500 annually according to Ridester - https://www.ridester.com/uber-lyft-driver-costs-and-expenses/). Those charges come to a total of $150 monthly then. That leaves $1650 from your $2600, and you'll need let's say $150 per month for tires and maintenance (even though EVs have fewer moving parts and require far less maintenance than gas guzzlers).
In other words, after all expenses it looks like 40 hours per week will clear an Uber driver using an EV option intelligently, somewhere around $1500 per month after costs at the very low end of the driver pay range. Those numbers look noticeably above the US minimum wage of $7.25 per hour or $290.00 per week for a 40 hour week. Glad to have those assumptions corrected by yourself or other forum members if I managed to screw them up.