In Lyft's vision, the world is turning away from car ownership and towards ride hailing and "transportation as a service."
In its latest earnings report, Lyft (LYFT) posted revenue growth of 72% year-over-year, amounting to $867.3 million — another record quarter and topping analysts' expectations of $809 million. Lyft shares rose almost 4% on Thursday but were falling 1.7% on Friday morning following rival Uber's (UBER) much weaker-than-expected report.
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In their report, Lyft executives cited healthy market demand, an increase in active riders and "better monetization" as factors in its revenue growth, which was also accompanied by a decline in marketing and sales as a percentage of revenue. With Lyft's investments in core ride sharing and other lines of business like bikes, "we're rapidly building a world where you can trade in your car keys and ride with Lyft," CEO Logan Green said in a press release.
The company's execs have argued for some time that a mass move away from owning cars is inevitable. On its previous earnings call, Green described "an enormous secular shift from personal car ownership to transportation-as-a-service," of which we're now in the early stages. It's a posture that Lyft and its rival, Uber, have repeatedly taken in investor communications. In its Thursday earnings call, for example, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi named "car ownership" as its biggest competitor.
But the eventual disappearance of personal vehicles, in favor of TaaS businesses like the ones Uber and Lyft are building, is far from a foregone conclusion.
The evidence on the subject is mixed at best. In the U.S., sales of brand-new cars have fallen overall for several years in a row — a trend that's linked more closely to affordability concerns than a diminishing appetite for car ownership. Monthly payments for new cars hit a record high of $554 per month in the first quarter of this year, a June report by CFRA Research found. And purchases of used cars have surged relative to purchases of new ones. Based on overall car sales, there is scant evidence in the U.S. that a mass shift away from car ownership is afoot.
"There is a shift, but folks with vested interests in ride sharing may be disappointed at the speed and breadth of the shift," said Erik Gordon, professor at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. "Fewer people who live in market-dense areas — cities and large college campuses — will own their own cars. People who live in dispersed areas such as suburbs or small and mid-size cities will keep owning their own cars because they need transportation more often and the cost of private ownership is lower."
In cities, ride hailing services have certainly made it more convenient to get around without a car, and that's reflected in statistics around the lopsided concentration of ride hailing in a handful of urban areas. According to transportation consultancy Schaller Consulting, as of 2018, 70% of Uber and Lyft rides occurred in nine densely-populated metro areas: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC.
Yet even areas where ride hailing is most popular haven't shown signs of consumers ditching car ownership en masse in favor of Uber and Lyft, at least not yet. In fact, based on survey data from the American Community Survey, overall car ownership has actually increased in those areas over the past few years.
There are a few reasons for that, explained Bruce Schaller of Schaller Consulting. One is that the populations of cities have grown. Another is an influx of wealthier residents who are more likely to own cars, or even multiple cars.
"I've looked recently in the neighborhoods where you might expect [car ownership rates] to be different, and it's not; it's the same. Car ownership rates are at the same level they were in the mid-2000s," Schaller said.
While there are nuances between different metro areas and the appeal of car ownership, there appears to be little evidence of a correlation between the availability of Uber and Lyft and a decrease in car ownership.
"They've been saying for years and years [that their] services will cause people to use fewer cars, and they'll still be saying it in 20 years if they'e still around," Schaller said. "It's no longer early days…whatever effects they have should be evident by now."
If personal vehicles ever become obsolete and replaced by transportation platforms, that vision appears quite remote right now. Investors may be able to glean slightly more in subsequent quarters based on how Lyft and Uber grow from here, and in what direction — with Uber, at least, there's been evidence of slowing growth in its core ride hailing business for some time, as it shifts its focus to incentivizing and retaining loyal riders and expanding into other lines of business.
Uber reported its latest earnings on Thursday, posting a wide miss on both revenue and earnings per share despite a 35% year-over-year uptick in total trips. Shares of Uber and Lyft are down 2.8% and 23% since their respective IPOs.
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