Launch Of Uber Business Product Stirs Up Limo Industry

LOS ANGELES — Uber, the leading Transportation Network Company competing with taxicabs, black cars and chauffeured luxury service, directed its vast marketing and deep pockets to business travelers for the first time this week, with its first-ever exhibit booth and product launch at the Global Business Travel Association Convention.

Uber formally announced the new Uber For Business service in a press release early Tuesday morning and then held a presentation at 10:30 a.m. during the GBTA Convention at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Press release on how Uber For Business works

Uber Means Serious Business
A panel of Uber’s senior managers appeared before a packed seminar room that included at least nine owners and/or senior executives from chauffeured transportation companies attending the convention or the 27 companies exhibiting on the show floor, along with several managers from those companies.

The Uber representatives — Gus Fuldner, Director of Insurance; Max Crowley, Senior Account Executive, Business Development; and Amy Friedlander, Business Development Senior Manager/West Coast — detailed how Uber will become more accessible to corporate travelers in the 162 cities and 42 countries worldwide where Uber provides its app-driven black vehicle service.

Uber For Business is one of several products the $17 billion valued TNC  is rolling out in coming months. The Uber team emphasized the product’s seamless booking of rides, overall information transparency, ability to accommodate team management of company travel, and more accurate e-billing and e-expense reporting via a partnership with Concur.

Bloomberg News reported Tuesday that: Inc. (CRM) and Deutsche Bank AG have signed up as clients for Uber’s corporate car-booking program, according to Emil Michael, Uber’s senior vice president of business. The service is being tested in the U.K. and France, he said, while London-based bank Barclays Plc (BARC) and New York-based online retailer Gilt Groupe Inc. will also be pilot customers.

Despite Uber’s technological expertise, the representatives at Tuesday’s rollout conceded that the world of business travel is still a bit new to them. “We do not know business travel that well,” Crowley said, citing Uber’s foray beyond its core youth-driven, urban retail market. “We’ve learned a lot in the last few months.” Fuldner echoed that sentiment later when he said that “business travel is still new to Uber.”

Awkward Moments
Immediately after the formal presentation, the event turned into a subtle tug-of-war as the Uber representatives left the stage to answer questions one-on-one while the audience pushed back asking for an open Q&A of the Uber reps. After briefly huddling, the three Uber reps hesitantly returned to the stage, and the microphones were turned back on. Audience members asked questions that mostly revolved around safety practices, background checks and insurance coverage.

The underlying tension in the room sprung from an ongoing national conflict spilled across multiple cities and states riled over ground transportation regulations, enforcement and insurance coverage, and namely, whether Uber and other TNCs are following the same rules as taxicabs, black cars and limousines. Uber also has attracted negative scrutiny due to it defying a cease-and-desist order in Virginia; some of its drivers caught operating illegally; a handful of drivers being involved in alleged sexual assaults, most recently in Washington, D.C. and in Los Angeles; and the high-profile death of a six-year-old girl in San Francisco struck by an Uber driver.

Given these circumstances, the promotion of TNC service in the business travel realm troubles limousine operators and corporations alike. The business travel sector prioritzes safety and quality in ground transportation options for its executives and managers.

Amid measured statements and formal smiles, the Uber reps either finessed specific questions about insurance policies and safety practices or gave general responses, referring questioners to Uber policies stated on their website:

Fuldner told LCT editors afterward that Uber meets or exceeds insurance requirements in all of its varied and diverse regulatory markets.

Competitive Factors
There are still many ifs about to what extent corporate America will embrace the Uber platform. One of America’s leading limousine CEOs, Scott Solombrino, remains confident that chauffeured luxury transportation will compete successfully against Uber and TNCs. Solombrino, the CEO of the new Dav ElBoston Coach Chauffeured Transportation Network, is considered a leading analyst and expert on ground transportation in media circles given his perch as President of the GBTA’s Allied Leadership Council and as a longtime board director and political leader of the National Limousine Association.

Solombrino spoke to LCT Monday on the subject of Uber during a feverish but disciplined round of back-to-back media interviews at his GBTA exhibit booth, ranging from the lofty Wall Street Journal down to LCT.

Business and corporate travelers will remain reluctant to use Uber because TNCs “can’t guarantee the duty of care — not in cars, not in licensing, not with their employees ,” Solombrino said. “They are out of compliance with regulations across the U.S.” Corporate America will always choose those vendors and services who conduct business legally and properly, he added. “The corporate market is smarter than the average consumer.”

Chauffeured Solutions
Uber will force operators in the chauffeured transportation industry to respond to TNCs by perfecting their chauffeured services and capitalizing on their superior market bandwidth, technology and fleet vehicles. The limousine industry also is going after the TNC market with similar but better app-based products, including Dav El/Boston Coach, which is launching an app for its vast network and 800-plus affiliates by Sept. 30, Solombrino said.

Another option on the horizon is an app-based product from Deem Ground which goes into beta testing with a corporate client during the first-quarter of 2015, said Amy Harris, senior vice president and general manager of Deem Ground, who attended the Uber presentation. The Deem product, directed exclusively to corporations, will combine advanced chauffeured reservations with on-demand technology — all from fully vetted, quality chauffeured transportation companies that meet regulatory, insurance and licensing standards, Harris said.

The sophisticated app-product would segment user information based on vehicle preferences, rates and service providers, all accessible and available in real-time with customer tracking of vehicles and communication with chauffeurs. The system also would generate complete end-to-end e-reporting and expensing for corporate clients with multiple tiers of travelers. Deem Ground has an exhibit booth (#2439) at the GBTA convention through Wednesday.


— Martin Romjue, LCT editor

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