US-based billion-dollar company Uber, which has overhauled the taxi industry and wrestled with certain national legislators, unions and competitors, is now working to enter the shipping market in the US.
The company has in recent years quietly been developing an app, Uber Freight, which enables shippers and truck drivers to arrange transports using their mobile phones.
As is the case with Uber's taxi app, a shipper can ask to have a cargo shipped at a fixed price, while truck drivers nearby can accept the voyage if they deem the price fair.
I do not think the freight forwarders are our competitors. I actually think they could be great partners"
According to Uber, the app will make it much easier to book transports as the parties will not need to contact each other, while it will also not be necessary to negotiate prices and complete paperwork.
And shippers will be able to follow the cargo throughout the voyage, thus providing the transparency that customers have been clamoring for in the shipping sector for years.
With the new service, Uber aims to handle part of the job that freight forwarders have typically performed. But well-known companies such as DSV, Kuehne+Nagel and Panalpina should not worry about their business, says the head of Uber's new shipping venture.
In an interview with ShippingWatch, Lior Ron, Senior Director at Uber and head of Uber Freight, explains that he does not view freight forwarders as competition. Rather, he calls on them for collaboration.
Already in talks with several players
"We know what we are good at and what we are not good at," says Israeli Lior Ron, former chief developer for Google Maps who joined Uber in 2016 when Uber acquired his self-driving tech company, Otto.
"We are focusing on truck loads and moving freight. Anyone who wants to use the platform is welcome. Whether it is domestic shippers that want to move stuff between domestic distribution centers or freight forwarding partners that want to move freight from one destination to the other," he says.
So who are your competitors? Not the freight forwarders?
"I do not think the freight forwarders are our competitors. I actually think they could be great partners. They are very good at focusing on international freight and very good at servicing very complicated logistic needs. So I actually see a great opportunity to partner with the freight forwarders with the on-the-ground trucking operation or we can be a trusted partner with the freight forwarders to provide transparency that their customers need all the way to the destination," says Ron, adding that Uber is already in talks with logistics companies.
"We have not announced any explicit partnership with freight forwarding companies yet, but we are very open and we have already spoken with a few of them," he tells ShippingWatch.
Self-driving trucks in Arizona
Uber Freight was launched in May 2017 and is still only available in the US, though the company plans launch the service in Europe at some point. It remains unknown how much the app is used in the US, where there is also at least one other similar app available, named Convoy.
According to Ron, Uber has already made agreements with several major shippers on the Forbes 500 list of the most valuable companies in the US. And the company is also looking to make life easier for medium-sized and small shippers.
"They can get access to a market place, which is transparent. They do not have that transparency today. They do not know where their assets are, they cannot track it, so we give them that transparency," he tells ShippingWatch.
"We also allow them to much better plan their transportation needs, because it is all in real time, they can see the market and they can see where all those drivers are, so they can better plan their end-to-end supply needs."
However, Uber is not only looking to make it easier to book cargoes and find work for drivers. The company has also sent its first self-driving trucks onto US roads, a concept that has just been launched in Arizona.
The way this works is that a driver drives a short trip to a transfer hub where he unloads the cargo. From here, the cargo is transferred to a self-driving truck that drives the long trip to another transfer hub, where a new driver handles the last stretch to the cargo's destination.
In this way, the longest part of the voyage is handled by self-driving technology, while drivers will not have to be away from home for long stretches of time, says Uber. But a driver is present in the self-driving truck.
The new self-driving concept was presented at the TPM 2018 conference in Long Beach, where ShippingWatch spoke to Lior Ron.
English Edit: Daniel Logan Berg-Munch