By Jeffrey Marcus
Investors may be enthusiastic for Uber's anticipated IPO, but the ride-hailing company's admission it may never be profitable raises some long-term concerns about its ability to dominate in an increasingly competitive industry on the eve of major disruption.
"We are about to enter this completely new era in this next five years of autonomous vehicles driving the majority of growth in both the automotive space and the ride sharing space," John Meyer, the managing partner at Transpire Ventures, said Friday on Cheddar.
Though investors may be able to make money on Uber when it goes public next month, Meyer said he's discouraged by the company's medium- and long-term prospects for growth. "I’m not ready to make a bearish call on Uber, but I am proceeding with serious caution and that’s mainly because of how far they are behind in the autonomous vehicle space," he said.
In its filing announcing plans to go public and sell $10 billion worth of stock, Uber said that it lost $1.8 billion last year and that its operating expenses will only increase. "Even if our revenue exceeds our direct expenses over time, we may not be able to achieve or maintain profitability," the company said in its SEC filing.
Chasing domination of the transportation markets in the U.S. and abroad, Uber has been on a grow-first, grow-fast trajectory that's made it the leading ride-hailing app in the world. But Meyer said Uber's ultimate ambition to deploy a worldwide fleet of self-driving vehicles faces stiff competition from Alphabet's Waymo venture, General Motors' Cruise division, and Tesla.
“Uber can see short-term gains mainly due to international expansion, due to UberEats expansion in the U.S. and internationally, and due to the new forms of mobility like the scooters that we’re now seeing everywhere," Meyer said. "But again, there is extremely stiff competition in the short term, exponentially more competition in the medium and longterm."
In addition, Uber has shown signs of vulnerability as Lyft, which went public late last month, has chipped away at Uber's lead. And Meyer said competitors are farther along than Uber in developing autonomous cars.
He said Tesla, despite the electric carmaker's well-documented struggles, "is one of the most understated threats in the entire stock market right now," and that the company plans to reveal its own plans for autonomous driving services in the next month. (Transpire Ventures doesn't have a stake in Uber, but Meyer said he holds some stock in the carmaker.)
Despite Meyer's doubts, and the notes of caution included in Uber's SEC filing, the company's CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is optimistic.
“Uber accounts for less than one percent of all miles driven globally. Just a small percentage of people in countries where Uber is available have ever used our service,” Khosrowshahi wrote in the SEC filing. The prospects for Uber's growth are huge.
“Because we are not even one percent done with our work, we will operate with an eye towards the future,” Khosrowshahi said.
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