Benchmark general partner Bill Gurley doesn’t believe there’s a driverless car revolution happening anytime soon. Today in a conversation with author Malcolm Gladwell at SXSW Interactive, the famed Silicon Valley investor said the technical requirements to bring driverless cars to market will be much too high to have any sort of short-term impact.
“I’m more of a skeptic on driverless cars than most people may be,” Gurley said. “The number of 9s that will be required… for a machine to be out there that weighs three tons at that speed, it would need four nines.”
Gurley went on to posit that people will be much less tolerant of a machine driver causing a human death than a human driver, and as a result those vehicles would need to be better than human driver, not just as good.
The autonomous car question came up as Gladwell was asking Gurley about Uber. In particular, he was asking what happens to all the jobs Uber is creating when autonomous cars start showing up on the road. But Gurley thinks Uber is a good alternative in the meantime.
“Uber is a great first step and let me tell you why – the driver is focused on the task at hand. The biggest problem you have now is shifting from drinking and driving to texting and drive and so let’s just have less people drive,” Gurley said.
Not surprisingly, Gurley is extremely bullish on Uber. And as an early investor, he probably should be. But more than just making Benchmark a bunch of money, Gurley talked about a number of ways in which he sees the transportation company changing the way society works.
“Based on what I’ve seen in San Francisco, it is transformational in many many ways,” Gurley said. “It’s probably the largest job creator in the town.”
But it’s not just creating jobs — at a time when San Francisco is seeing a huge growth due to the tech boom in the city, Gurley believes that Uber is having a significant impact in the way people get around. He noted that last year congestion in the city was down year over year, despite having many more people and jobs.
“How could traffic drop in the city that has the highest employment growth in the country?” Gurley asked, hypothetically.
Gurley also pointed out that Uber has had a reduction in the number of DUIs in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. Some of that comes from young people deciding to use Uber instead of driving their cars when they go out drinking.
On the topic of young people, Gurley noted one reason that Uber has grown so quickly is that they just aren’t interested in owning cars.
“The millennials don’t give a shit about cars,” Gurley said. He compared today’s youth to when he was younger and daydreaming about the type of car that he would buy when it was time to get his driver’s license. “There are kids that are 16 today and won’t get their drivers license.”
On the other side of the generational spectrum, Uber is seeing adoption among seniors who are using it to get around instead of driving themselves. “We hear anecdotally from the child of that parent that they feel safer knowing that parent is in an Uber. I think you will see more of this area,” Gurley said.
Either way, Uber is huge and continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.
“Today we are five times bigger in San Francisco than the entire limo and taxi market when we began… and we don’t have all the market,” Gurley said. “At first i think it was an alternative to taxi because it was faster, and now it’s cheaper… But now it’s started competing with other things, like rental cars.”