Today, I want to respond to one of Davey Alba's articles on Wired. He recently published a post with the title “Calling an Uber Is Cooler Than Owning a Car—And Automakers Want In”, which I enjoyed reading. However, the title was confusing and disconnected from the rest of the article. Today, after shortly analyzing what upset me about his use of words, I want to take a deeper look into perceptions of being driven vs. driving and of course the coolness factor.
Davey uses the word cool in his title, which has a huge array of meanings. According to urbandictionary.com it could be used as “the best way to say something is neat, awesome, or swell”. Calling an Uber is done by pressing a single button. It is unclear to me is how pressing a button on a screen is more awesome than owning a powerful, moving object? The word cool does not fit here. Maybe it is cheaper or more comfortable but how is it cooler? No customer research was provided to prove that claim.
Second, an action (of calling an Uber) was compared to the ownership of an object. It was not the experience of being driven vs driving nor was it the ownership status that was compared. It was the act of calling an Uber that was quoted to be cooler than the ownership of a vehicle. How is that even comparable? Sure, one could say that opening up a banana is cooler than having an apple, but how does that make any sense?
Finally, “automakers want in” might be correct. Auto manufacturers are interested in surviving in a world where the primary source of revenue might not come from private car purchases. However, ride-hailing apps need automakers as much as automakers need them. If one ride-hailing company gets access to cheap vehicles… that is a competitive advantage. If one ride-hailing company has an automotive partners that provides cars equipped with all necessary sensors and cameras for self-drivability… that is a competitive advantage too. Automotive firms and ride-hailing companies need each other to stay relevant.
In the end, Davey created a title to attract a wide audience. In understand that. But the article describes recent partnerships and investments between tech and automotive firms instead of discussing driving vs. being driven or ownership status… and thus the title is misleading for the sake of generating more views.
Anyhow, at least he inspired me to think about two major questions for a while: Is it cooler to get a ride in somebody’s car or drive an owned vehicle? Are those two truly substitutes or can car ownership or ride sharing survive side by side? I started by searching the web to see how other people feel about it…
Not a single of the top 5 search results uses the word cool to describe differences between riding in an Uber and driving an owned vehicle. What the articles discuss are details around the financials of ownership vs. ride-hailing. In summary, Kyle Hill posted this interesting article on financials in 2014. The basic outcome was that after an annual mileage of 9,481miles it becomes less profitable to ride in an Uber and more profitable to drive your own car. However, the break-even mileage depends on usage patterns and miles driven per year. In general, the fewer miles and the less often you have to drive the more sense on demand services make.
Thus, the biggest difference the public sees between those ownership models is cost. But what about the coolness factor? What is more awesome driving or being driven? I guess, it depends... It depends on how difficult parking is and how visible the car is to others... meaning when arriving in front of a club it is more preferable to have a cool car than when parking it in a underground parking facility. Lets also not forget about the brand factor... Would you prefer to be driven in somebody’s Corolla or driving your own Corolla… probably be driven. What about BMW? Would you prefer owning and driving your on BMW or sitting in the back of somebody’s BMW… to me driving BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, etc. sounds like more fun than being driven in them. What about Rolls Royce? I guess to be driven around in a Rolls Royce could be awesome!
So far we have identified multiple factors that play a role in choosing between driving an owned car or being driven in somebody's vehicle: cost, parking availability, visibility and brand... and I am sure there are many more.
While there are multiple factors influencing the decision of owning and driving, ultimately I believe that there will be 4 different ownership/responsibility scenarios that will coexist. Each of the has slightly differentiated use cases. While it is unclear if driving or being driven is cooler, I hypothesize that in most cases it is cooler to own an object vs. renting it. Looking at the graph below, personal ownership seems to be cooler than 3rd party ownership, don't you think?
Josh Waldrum conducted an experiment in which he gave up his car for a month to try ride sharing instead: “After doing this experiment, I realized that having the flexibility to go anywhere at any point in my own car was something that’s hard to put a price tag on. Giving up my car and relying solely on Lyft and Uber was a little restricting, to say the least… While I’m fortunate to work in an area that is near lunch options, I had to make sure I brought lunch with me most days. I also couldn’t really run errands very easily and had to rely on Amazon Prime for getting some household goods and necessities… There is an element to just getting in my car and driving around that’s very therapeutic… Ridesharing may work on just about every practical level, but driving is an emotional experience, too—one I wouldn’t want to give up.”
I could not explain any better why owning a car will not go away too soon and why owning a car is still cool.
As we can see from the ownership/responsibility matrix and Josh's personal experience, owning cars and taking Ubers are not perfect substitute products. While the preferred transportation method depends on at least cost, parking availability, visibility and brand, in all scenarios somebody in the value chain has to own that vehicle... and usually it is cooler to own it yourself ;)
Sini Ninkovic analyzes the EV market and its customers since 2012. He helped bringing BMW's i3 and i8 to market and currently works as Product Planner for Lucid Motors.