SINGAPORE (Sept 5): Uber, the global giant of ride hailing, which at the last round of its fundraising was valued at US$68 billion ($92.7 billion), lost US$1.2 billion in the first half of this year compared with a US$987.2 million loss in the same period last year.

The biggest expense for Uber is not R&D for its proprietary software or algorithms or, indeed, marketing and customer acquisition, but driver subsidies.

Now, as the focus shifts to taking humans out of the driver’s seat, the entire business model of ride hailing and ride sharing is being turned upside down. All the mock battles in the ride-hailing and ride-sharing space so far — such as the Uber-Lyft fight in the US; or the recently ended Didi Chuxing-Uber duel in China— have merely been a prelude to the real war that is about to begin. Uber, Didi, Ola, Grab and their ilk know that the elephant in the room has not even shown its hand yet.

On Aug 30, the elephant finally stirred.

Uber put out word that it had forced out one of its directors who represented its earliest investors: David Drummond from Google Ventures. Drummond and another Google executive who was an “observer” on Uber’s board have been “shut out” of directors’ meetings for months because the ride-hailing firm did not want sensitive information about its strategy to find its way to Google.

Although neither Google nor its parent Alphabet had publicly articulated their self-driving vehicle strategy, it has been an open secret that the search engine group wants to be a major player in ride hailing and ride sharing as it attempts to disrupt the sector that Uber now dominates.

Google itself has been a pioneer of self-driving vehicles, one of its first moonshot projects. Three years ago, it acquired Waze, an Israeli mapping software firm for US$1.3 billion. Waze uses GPS to track movements of its users on the road, which helps it offer real-time driving directions based on information from other drivers. Google recently began supporting a carpooling service in San Francisco using Waze.

To find out how Google and its parent Alphabet could disrupt the ride hailing industry and your next ride, grab your copy of The Edge Singapore (Issue No 744, September 5) available from major bookstores, 7-11 stores, and selected petrol stations today.