Axios What's Next

Picture of a futuristic looking skyline.

Electric vehicles are starting to descend on the taxi industry. Joann Muller takes a look at what that means for Uber, Lyft and their startup competitors.

  • Today's photo — with a video — gives a glimpse into the future of quick-serve restaurants.
  • Got a picture of something novel you want to share with us? Email: [email protected].

Today's newsletter is 1,073 words, a 4-minute read.

1 big thing: Why the electric car era is a threat to Uber and Lyft

Illustration of an electric charge symbol on a taxicab roof sign.
Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

The taxi business is going electric, which could spell trouble for ride-hailing giants like Uber and Lyft, who can't force their drivers to buy EVs, Joann writes.

Why it matters: The two companies don't own and operate EV fleets or a charging infrastructure, and they rely on contract drivers who operate vehicles of their own choice.

  • That business model could prove antiquated in the Electric Age, as new companies entering the fray are choosing to manage their own fleets from a central hub and count their drivers as employees.

What's happening: A host of new players are challenging the incumbents' model:

  • New York-based Revel recently launched a ride-hailing service in Manhattan with a fleet of Teslas and 150 full-time drivers.
  • Another company, Alto, raised $45 million to transition to an electric fleet with full-time drivers. It operates in Dallas, Houston, Miami and Los Angeles, but plans to expand nationwide by 2025.
  • In Las Vegas, a premium electric taxi service called Kaptyn has 150 full-time drivers, although it provides pre-arranged, not on-demand, trips.

For Uber and Lyft, EVs present added challenges: They're too pricey for many gig drivers and they need to be recharged, cutting into time the drivers could be earning money.

Where it stands: The newcomers are tiny, but their rise could signal a shifting landscape.

  • "Ultimately, we believe the entire ride-hailing industry is in the early stages of transitioning from the current outsourced car and driver model to fully owned EV fleets with fully employed drivers," according to new research from PitchBook mobility analyst Asad Hussain.

The other side: Uber and Lyft both express confidence in their business model and have committed huge sums to help drivers transition to EVs.

  • Uber is spending more than $800 million on earnings incentives and charging discounts to help drivers make the switch by 2025.
  • It's already seeing significant progress in Europe, where EVs are more popular.
  • In the U.S., Uber recently struck a deal with Hertz to make up to 50,000 Teslas available for rent by Uber drivers.
  • Lyft makes EVs available to rent through its FlexDrive subsidiary and is talking to automakers about adding more EVs to the fleet, Lyft's co-founder John Zimmer told Yahoo Finance this week.
  • "There is a huge shift happening," Zimmer said. "We feel very well positioned, and we want to bring multiple products to our drivers."

The bottom line: Electrification poses a disruptive threat to the very companies that disrupted mobility a decade ago.

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2. America's roads are getting deadlier

Data: U.S. Department of Transportation; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Motor vehicle crash fatalities experienced the largest six-month spike on record in the first half of 2021, Bryan Walsh writes in Axios Future.

Why it matters: Road deaths are one of the biggest — if underappreciated — public health threats in the U.S. and the world.

  • Speeding, distracted driving, and drug and alcohol use all play a role, but tougher, automated traffic policing could help reduce the death toll.

By the numbers: An estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle accidents through the first half of 2021, according to data released late last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • That puts the U.S. on track for more than 40,000 motor vehicle crash deaths in 2021, roughly equivalent to the number of Americans who died last year in gun homicides, suicides and accidents combined.

What they're saying: "This is a crisis," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement after the data was released. "We cannot and should not accept these fatalities as simply a part of everyday life in America."

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3. The global carbon emissions rebound of 2021

Data: Global Carbon Project; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Global carbon emissions in 2021 are on course to rebound to near pre-pandemic levels following an unprecedented drop in 2020, according to the Global Carbon Project, an international research consortium, Andrew Freedman writes in Axios Generate.

Why it matters: While the past few days have brought a slew of commitments internationally to reduce the use of fossil fuels and cut emissions, in the real world, emissions are not showing signs of slowing.

Details: Emissions in the U.S. and EU have decreased in 2021 relative to pre-pandemic levels, but they have increased in India and China, in particular.

Researchers from three universities in the U.K. and the U.S. and from a Norwegian institute warn that global emissions could increase further in 2022 if emissions from cars and planes recover to pre-pandemic levels and coal use is not curtailed.

  • China's emissions are projected to rise by 4% compared to 2020, reaching 5.5% above 2019 levels and accounting for a third of global emissions in 2021.
  • Emissions in India are projected to rise by 12.6% compared to 2020, reaching 4.4% above 2019 levels.
  • For the U.S., emissions are projected to increase by 7.6% compared to 2020, but drop 3.7% below 2019 levels, making up 14% of global emissions in 2021.

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4. Companies go after boomerang employees

Illustration of a computer keyboard with the return key in the shape of a house.
Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

As firms wade through the "Great Resignation" and scramble to fill a record number of open jobs, they're increasingly hiring boomerang employees, Erica Pandey writes.

The big picture: Companies are realizing that recruiting from their own community of alumni — a pool of workers who are already familiar with the firm and how it works — is one strategy to fill roles quickly, CNBC reports.

What's happening: Many firms may have workers who quit because they had to relocate and find a new job in a new city. Now that the pandemic has popularized telework, companies can bring back the employees who moved away as remote workers.

  • Boomerang workers save companies time and money because they already have relationships with other employees and know the business. So the interviewing, hiring and on-boarding process can be shorter, and they can dive right into new projects.
  • And in this tight labor market, workers who left their employers to look for higher pay can boomerang and likely get better compensation from their old firms.

What to watch: Look for old colleagues to become new ones as these labor market conditions persist.

  • We want to hear from you! Are you a boomerang employee who has gone back to work for a previous employer during the pandemic? Email us at [email protected]

5. Photo of the day

The Flippy 2, a hamburger-flipping device for fast food restaurants

What's Next: Better fast-food automation

The Flippy 2 "takes over the work for an entire fry station and performs more than twice as many food preparation tasks" as its predecessor, Flippy 1, including "basket filling, emptying and returning," boasts Miso Robotics, which recently tested its device with White Castle.

Check out this CNN video of Flippy 2 at work.

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