Uber drivers don’t always need four wheels, front-facing passenger seats and top speeds over 50 miles an hour just to drive people or deliveries from one place to another in a city. So Uber is working with automakers to create custom-built cars for urban ride- hail and delivery work, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said.
Custom-made electric vehicles with three wheels, for instance, could “have a much smaller footprint in terms of environmental but also traffic flow” than typical passenger cars, Khosrowshahi said in an interview with the the Wall Street Journal on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The discussion is shown in a video posted in the Journal’s website. Uber has said that it will offer only fully electric rides in the United States and Europe by 2030. Uber is already working with the electric commercial vehicle startup Arrival to create a a car just for ride-hailing applications.
In Uber’s custom ride-hail vehicles, Khosrowshahi said, passengers might sit facing one another to ease interaction rather than facing forward as occupants typically do in cars. Many cities, like New York, have low speed limits which make higher horsepower, and, in turn, large and expensive battery packs, unnecessary.
Also, in the US and Europe, vehicles with low top speeds can be held to less stringent crash safety standards than vehicles capable of highway speeds. For urban deliveries, especially, passenger vehicles can be wasteful of space and power since packages are usually much smaller than people and don’t require seatbelts and airbags.
Some package delivery companies, like UPS, are already experimenting with small electric vehicles customized for delivery in congested urban areas. UPS has also worked with Arrival for delivery vans.
Uber has been the subject of complaints that its service adds to to urban congestion by drawing riders out of mass transit, such as trains and buses, and into more individual cars that clog streets. Smaller vehicles of the sort Khosrowshahi envisions could, at least, help mitigate congestion. Larger, less maneuverable vehicles like trucks and SUVs have been shown to contribute to urban congestion.
CNN’s Matt McFarland contributed to this story.