We asked our panel of strategy experts to tell us how strongly they agree with this statement:

Uber has to develop self-driving cars in the next 10 years in order to remain viable.


Raw Responses

Responses weighted by panelists’ level of confidence

Panelist Vote Confidence Comments Profile & Vote History
Nalebuff, Barry

Barry Nalebuff

Yale University
Agree 9 “Not sure the question is quite right. I believe quite strongly that self-driving cars are essential to Uber’s success. But if Toyota develops them in partnership with Uber that could work fine for Uber.” Profile / Vote History
Roberts, John

John Roberts

Stanford University
Neither Agree nor Disagree 6 “Other companies can do it instead.” Profile / Vote History
Holden, Richard

Richard Holden

University of New South Wales
Disagree 9 “They either need to do that to reduce costs, or raise prices. But the price hike required to make Uber profitable is not prohibitive.” Profile / Vote History
Arora, Ashish

Ashish Arora

Duke University
Strongly Agree 7 “The driver cost is by far the biggest part of unit cost.” Profile / Vote History
Van Reenen, John

John Van Reenen

Disagree 6 Profile / Vote History
McAfee, R. Preston

R. Preston McAfee

Strongly Disagree 8 “Being the market maker — connecting buyers and vehicles — is a better position than developing self-driving tech. Uber driverless will push the dozen other providers away from Uber’s market.” Profile / Vote History
Greenstein, Shane

Shane Greenstein

Harvard University
Agree 6 “Uber needs self-driving cars to justify its sky-high valuations. Without [them], the investment community will not allow [Uber] to lose as much money as they are losing now. That will hamstring their growth.” Profile / Vote History
Tadelis, Steve

Steve Tadelis

University of California, Berkeley
Disagree 9 “There is significant uncertainty on the regulatory environment that self-driving cars will be subject to, and the cost model of human drivers is pretty affordable.” Profile / Vote History
McGahan, Anita

Anita McGahan

University of Toronto
Strongly Disagree 8 “The business model for self-driving cars is only now emerging. It will take some time for its full development. In the meantime, Uber will face a broad range of other challenges.” Profile / Vote History
Levinthal, Daniel

Daniel Levinthal

University of Pennsylvania
Strongly Agree 8 “Uber can be thought of as being in the technology enabled point-to-point transit business. Driverless cars will provide that same service at considerably less cost than the current driver-based [business].” Profile / Vote History
Rosenkopf, Lori

Lori Rosenkopf

University of Pennsylvania
Agree 8 “Expect a merger or acquisition in less than five years.” Profile / Vote History
Agarwal, Rajshree

Rajshree Agarwal

University of Maryland
Strongly Disagree 9 “There are many strategic directions a firm can take to renew itself; narrowing the performance outcome to one particular option seems to be unduly restrictive of the potential innovative landscape.” Profile / Vote History
Busse, Meghan

Meghan Busse

Northwestern University
Strongly Disagree 2 “It may be that Uber will need to be using self-driving cars 10 years from now in order to remain viable, but it seems very unlikely that Uber will need to develop those cars itself.” Profile / Vote History
Lyon, Tom

Tom Lyon

University of Michigan
Disagree 6 “Many other companies are working on autonomous vehicles, from Google to Ford. I’m not sure Uber has the capacity to win this game, and anyway, they can always adopt others’ successes.” Profile / Vote History
Sorenson, Olav

Olav Sorenson

Yale University
Strongly Agree 7 “I’m not sure that Uber is viable now. But to the extent that they need self-driving cars, it seems that they could purchase them from a company with more expertise in autos or AI (e.g., GM or Tesla).” Profile / Vote History
Schilling, Melissa

Melissa Schilling

New York University
Disagree 8 “(a) Technologies that require multiple stakeholders to cooperate (e.g., manufacturers, regulators, insurers, customers) can take a long time to diffuse, and (b) Uber doesn’t have to do the development.” Profile / Vote History
Shaw, Kathryn

Kathryn Shaw

Stanford University
Neither Agree nor Disagree 3 “I think it will take longer to roll out driverless cars than has been discussed in the press. Consumers of Uber are satisfied with real drivers and some like the personal interaction.” Profile / Vote History
Simcoe, Timothy

Timothy Simcoe

Boston University
Disagree 2 “All of my Uber drivers are now multi-homing. That’s a short-term problem. In the long-term, it’s hard to see Uber making the switch from competing for drivers to competing with them.” Profile / Vote History
Cassiman, Bruno

Bruno Cassiman

University of Navarra
Disagree 9 “Uber is experimenting to figure out the path toward staying relevant. Getting into the development of self-driving cars is one possible path they are exploring.” Profile / Vote History
Eisenhardt, Kathleen

Kathleen Eisenhardt

Stanford University
Disagree 7 “Others are developing self-driving cars, Uber can obtain them from others.” Profile / Vote History
Feldman, Maryann

Maryann Feldman

University of North Carolina
Disagree 5 “Self-driving cars are coming — the technology is being introduced incrementally and every model release has more automatic features. The limiting factor is insurance and assignment of liability.” Profile / Vote History
Henderson, Rebecca

Rebecca Henderson

Harvard University
Agree 8 Profile / Vote History
Chatterji, Aaron

Aaron Chatterji

Duke University
Disagree 8 Profile / Vote History
Gans, Joshua

Joshua Gans

University of Toronto
Disagree 6 “If that proves to be a thing, they’ll be able to procure the technology.” Profile / Vote History
Hochberg, Yael

Yael Hochberg

Rice University
Agree 8 “Uber needs to be able to replace their fleet with driverless vehicles to be sustainable. Someone else can develop those vehicles, though.” Profile / Vote History
Brynjolfsson, Erik

Erik Brynjolfsson

Disagree 8 “Self-driving cars are a strong complement for ride-hailing services. However, the technology will eviscerate half of Uber’s two-sided network: its huge installed base of drivers.” Profile / Vote History
Gino, Francesca

Francesca Gino

Harvard University
Did Not Answer Profile / Vote History
Brown, Jennifer

Jennifer Brown

University of Utah
Did Not Answer Profile / Vote History

1 Comment On: Will Self-Driving Technology Be Uber’s Make or Break?

  • Juan Ramirez | October 3, 2018

    Assuming that eventually Uber will have to be profitable, it will definitely need to be mostly, if not one-hundred-percent, driverless. Which is why the company has spent so much developing driverless technology–mind you, without exclusivity nor with leadership. But technology in broad terms, at its present status, is not as advanced as we might think it is. In Seattle alone, Uber employs more than two-hundred engineers to maintain its systems operational. This includes the driver and rider apps–requests, mapping, routing, promotions, payments, etc. This system that links the needs of one-million users and ten-thousand drivers in Seattle is good, but far from perfect. Glitches occur, and the administrative burden is tremendous. Company-wide, financial losses keep piling up at a rate of several billion per year. Driverless doesn’t just mean that Uber gets to keep 100% of fares. It also means competition from the likes of Google (Waymo), GM, Ford, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Volvo, Tesla, etc., which translates into fares being slashed down from present levels of approximately $1.30/mile + $0.20/minute, substantially. Perhaps by as much as 70%. Uber’s most valuable asset is not its drivers, because they’re disposable. It’s its customers, and its knowledge of its customers’ riding patterns, likes, needs, and possibilities. As a developer of driverless technology Uber sucks–as we saw in Tempe, Arizona. Uber’s best chance for a driverless future is a strong, ironclad alliance with a powerful car manufacturer, one that has the capacity to produce literally millions of driverless units, perhaps all-electric…

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