Ride-sharing firm Uber is edgy and disruptive, I get that. It’s part of the way that Uber positions itself to the market – it’s a hip service, not something stuffy and tired like a regular taxi. In fact, Uber goes to great lengths to underline that it’s not a taxi service, or more than a taxi service. It’s a limo-quality service on a taxi budget, etc.
Fact is, it’s still a car and driver that takes a passenger from A to B, for payment. But it’s also one that generates a lot of publicity / hype for its service.
Since self-driving cars are THE thing right now, Uber of course wants to get in on the action. That’s why it joined some 20 other companies that are testing self-driving car technology on the highways of California.
According to BBC reports, all but Uber have obtained a special permit, one which includes automatic accident-reporting for self-driving cars. Could this be because Uber is less interested in actually testing the technology – which it already admits is not up to par with the likes of Google – but more interested in just pushing its brand?
Uber, of course, wants you to think it’s different … perhaps special. We already knew that, see above etc. However, Uber decides “we respectfully disagree with the California Department of Motor Vehicles legal interpretation of today’s autonomous regulations, in particular that Uber needs a testing permit to operate its self-driving cars in San Francisco.”
This is because it actually has a driver behind the wheel of its self-driving cars – only for emergency cases, of course, like when the Uber self-driving car wants to run a red light …
Therefore, argues Uber, it’s like Tesla’s autopilot function and you don’t need a special permit for that … so we’re just going to ignore the regulation, because it doesn’t suit us.
The thin line between love and hate
This is where Uber steps over the mark between being a pioneer, and being foolish. And the situation is exacerbated by the release of dashcam footage showing an Uber self-driving car running a red light in San Francisco. It’s purely speculation, but maybe the driver who was there to intervene was distracted. Perhaps busy telling their friends, via social media, how cool it was to be actually driving around San Francisco in a self-driving Uber car … oops, what do you mean red light?
Of course, such arrogance/stupidity (they are often closely connected) didn’t go unnoticed by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. After Uber had ignored its threats of legal action for non-compliance, the DMV went one step further and suspended the registration for the vehicles in question. So just days after Uber arrogantly proclaimed that it didn’t need to stop, it stopped.
And that’s when its PR positioning backfired.