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Self-driving cars are an ‘existential crisis’ for Uber, ‘Upstarts’ author Brad Stone says

And that’s why Uber might beat Google and Apple.

Uber Experiments With Driverless Cars Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Uber has grown from a small car-hailing app into an international phenomenon, but a new book about it and Airbnb — “The Upstarts” by Brad Stone — argues that Uber’s future is uniquely imperiled.

“I think the existential question for Uber is obviously self-driving cars,” Stone said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “I can’t think of another business where we can say, Uber’s strength now might mean nothing, could literally be zero in a decade.”

Stone writes that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick decided to start investing in self-driving cars after seeing Alphabet co-founder Sergey Brin unveil one at the first Code Conference in 2014. However, he argues, Uber’s need to stay ahead of the curve on autonomous vehicles gives it an advantage over Waymo, which is merely one of many “side bets” inside of Alphabet.

“It’s amazing what you can do when it’s an existential crisis, when it’s your future and your whole business,” Stone said. “It’s not Google’s business, it’s not Apple’s business. It’s the car companies’ business, but we can be privately pessimistic about the chances that they’ll become real technology companies.”

“So, in that respect, I think Uber has a tremendous advantage: They’re well-capitalized, they’ve got an amazing business that can fund the research, and everything is hinging on it,” he added. “In some ways, I think they’re the company to beat. At the same time, Google had a 10-year head start, but there’s not a good track record there of maintaining talent. They’ve got Waymo problems.”

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