DETROIT – It took McDonald’s years to sell 2 billion fast-food hamburgers. Uber is clipping along at a much faster rate. Its drivers gave 4 billion rides last year alone.
“I can’t think of a faster increase,” Stephen Zoepf, executive director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University, says at the SAE World Congress Experience here during a presentation, “Data Driven: The Future of Mobility.”
Uber and its ride-hailing competitor Lyft seem like they will stick around for a while, but Zoepf cites results of a survey asking people what they would do if those mobility services didn’t exist.
Twenty-two percent said they would take fewer rides. That was the No.1 answer, followed by drive (21%), carpool (18%), walk (17%) and use public transit (15%). Low on the poll was take a taxi (1%).
Ride-sharing and ride-hailing services (and the advent of self-driving vehicles) presumably could hurt auto sales.
But using cars in such ways piles on the miles, shortens their lives and increases buying cycles, Zoepf says. “You are taking the lifetime of a vehicle – that used to be about a decade – and compressing it into a few years.”
Besides, looking strictly at sales is misleading, he adds. “Sales can be strong, but profits weak.”
If mobility services continue on their upward trajectory, it could dilute brand importance. “For some people, buying a BMW or a CUV reflects their personality,” Zoepf says. “But if you are riding in a car for a few minutes, does it matter what brand it is?”
Advocates of mobility services cite the downtime of personal vehicle ownership.
“The average car sits idle about 95% of the time, but this doesn’t mean we only need one-twentieth of a car,” Zoepf says. Ownership means “we can travel when we want, where we want.”
It’s not practical to use Uber for a drive in the mountains.