Tech Industry

Uber CEO wants every car to be an Uber car

The ride-hailing service is already in more than 300 cities in 60 countries, but Travis Kalanick wants it everywhere.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick discusses the ride-hailing service's future during Salesforce's annual DreamForce convention this week. James Martin/CNET

When you think of the words "world domination," you probably envision a James Bond villain. Maybe instead you should conjure Travis Kalanick, complete with socks that read "carpe diem."

Kalanick, CEO of the ride-hailing service that's become the world's highest-valued startup, said he sees a future in which every car on the road is connected to Uber, making it available to give you for a lift whenever you need one.

"We want to make transportation as reliable as running water," Kalanick said, citing benefits such as less congestion, more available parking and jobs for drivers. Everyone, he said, would benefit because the service would be more appealing than getting behind the wheel. "Our whole thing is about making Uber cheaper than owning a car."

Kalanick was speaking at a "fireside chat" Wednesday with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff during Salesforce's annual DreamForce convention in San Francisco. Sporting a dark suit paired with hot pink socks bearing the words "carpe diem" (Latin for "seize the day"), Kalanick used his company's latest facts and figures to discuss his hopes for Uber.

A close-up of Kalanick's socks, which bear the motto "carpe diem." James Martin/CNET

Kalanick isn't just some overzealous Silicon Valley executive. As the head of Uber, he's leading a company valued at more than $50 billion. The idea seems simple: pair drivers with passengers via a smartphone app to create an on-call service. San Francisco-based Uber has become the biggest ride-hailing service on the planet, operating in 60 countries. It serves up thousands of rides per minute, on average, Kalanick said. And 100,000 people use its carpooling service, called UberPool, each week in every city where it's available.

But the company isn't stopping there. Kalanick said Uber is looking to expand to every street corner, from small-town America to the Middle East and Africa.

Just like any Bond villain, Kalanick has some roadblocks to overcome. Uber has been beset with controversies about how it classifies drivers for tax purposes, whether it properly vets drivers before sending them on the road to pick up passengers and when it disregards local laws not just in the US but in many other countries as well. Uber has even been criticized because its drivers have reportedly broken laws that protect passengers in wheelchairs.

Some of these controversies threaten to unravel Uber's business model. But Kalanick largely ignored them all, saying instead that the company is "pumped to give rides around the city" and provide drivers with "an income opportunity."

"We give riders high-fives," he said. "We give drivers hugs."

As far as what's in Uber's future, besides transforming every car on the road into an Uber, Kalanick said the company would continue to look into driverless cars and expand into the delivery sector, as with its food delivery service, UberEats.

"Once you can deliver cars in five minutes, there's a lot of things you can deliver in five minutes," he said. "If something is moving from somewhere to somewhere else in a city, that's our jam."