Get ready for Uber to hit overdrive with delivery biz

The app-centric ride service has built a network of cars that can carry people -- but in the future, it'll carry more than that.

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Stephen Shankland
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Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at LeWeb 2013
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick at LeWeb 2013 Stephen Shankland/CNET

PARIS -- Uber's network of cars today transports people with a taxi-like service, but in the future, it'll carry more than that, Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said Tuesday.

"We need to stamp out an urban logistics fabric in every city in the world, then it's figuring out other things we can do with that fabric," he said at the LeWeb show here. "It's going to be interesting for us in 2014."

Uber, with 500 employees, recently raised $260 million in funding with a valuation of $3.45 billion. It's now concentrating on expanding in China, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, and other Asian countries, and in dealing with new competitive threats such as ride-sharing services, Kalanick said.

The company rose to prominence with an app that lets people page cars in many cities and pay automatically based on how long their trip is. It's tangling with the taxi business in many areas -- the city of New Orleans, for instance, sent a cease-and-desist letter, even though the company doesn't operate there -- but moving into logistics could mean that FedEx, DHL, and UPS also could become irritated.

"Today, we are in the business of delivering cars in five minutes. Once you're in the business of delivering cars in five minutes, there are a lot of things you can deliver in five minutes," Kalanick said. The company has experimented with delivering Christmas trees, ice cream, and roses, he added.

It's not clear how the expansion will affect the company's relations with incumbent powers. Uber is fighting a lot of battles right now against entrenched taxi interests already. For example, in South Korea, Koreans aren't permitted to use the car service, and a police investigator recently spent three and a half hours grilling him about his business. And in France, a proposed law would require a minimum delay of 15 minutes for cars from Uber or comparable services to actually pick up a customer.

"If you request a car and it comes in five minutes, you have to stare at it for 10 more minutes," Kalanick said.

Because of such challenges, Uber has three in-house lawyers and partnerships with 50 law firms around world. But the most effective way to take on taxi interests, Kalanick said, is through customers applying political pressure. Meeting with ministers to try to win them over is a "waste of time," he said.

"In the regulatory world, there is the inside game and the outside game," Kalanick said. "Uber has a great outside game."