According to Wild Ride, a book by Fortune magazine’s Adam Lashinsky coming out next week, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick approached Tesla CEO Elon Musk to partner up on autonomous car-sharing, but Musk refused to work with Uber.
A few days later, Musk announced Tesla’s own effort to bring an autonomous car-sharing fleet to market.
Bloomberg got a copy of the book and reported the relevant conversation as recalled by Kalanick:
“I said, ‘Look man, we should partner,’ Elon spent the rest of the call convincing me that it’s too far out, and it’s not realistic, that I should just stick to what we do best and be focused, or I’m going to f— it all up. That’s when I knew Tesla was competing.”
Neither Uber or Tesla commented on the story.
The timing is strange since the book says that the call happened just before Musk unveiled ‘Tesla MasterPlan Part 2’, which included the Tesla Network, in July 2016. By that time, Tesla, through public comments made by Musk, had already made clear that they had an aggressive timeline for autonomous driving – words like “too far out, and it’s not realistic” are not something we have often heard from either Musk or other Tesla officials.
Nonetheless, it’s interesting that Kalanick confirmed that he wanted to partner up with Tesla.
In 2015, Silicon Valley venture capitalist and early Tesla investor Steve Juvertson recalled a conversation he had with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick:
“Travis recently told me that in 2020, if Telsas are autonomous, he’d want to buy all of them. He said all 500,000 of estimated 2020 production, I’d want them all, but he couldn’t get a return call from Elon.”
Uber later reportedly shopped around large orders of vehicles with autonomous capability, but, of course, the company has since also launched its own effort to develop self-driving technology and it is now being sued by Google over it.
On the other hand, Tesla announced its own car-sharing effort, Tesla Network, though it is apparently waiting for autonomous driving before launching the application. Musk said that the majority of ‘Tesla Network’ revenue will go to owners: ‘it’s not Tesla versus Uber, it’s the people versus Uber’ he added.