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Where’s Your Flying Car? Hyundai and Uber Say They’re Working on It

Curtiss Autoplane. Fulton Airphibian. Taylor Aerocar.

Businesses and entrepreneurs have been promising a mass-produced flying car for more than a century. None have succeeded, but that hasn’t stopped Hyundai and Uber from wanting in on the action.

In Las Vegas on Monday, at the Consumer Electronics Show, the two companies announced that they were joining forces to develop an all-electric air taxi that would be part of a future “aerial ride-share network.”

“We’re looking at the dawn of a completely new era that opens the skies above our cities,” Jaiwon Shin, the head of Hyundai’s Urban Air Mobility division, said at the announcement. “We will be able to fly on demand — just imagine that.”

The South Korean automaker showed a small-scale model on Monday and offered a virtual-reality experience. A nonfunctioning full-scale model was later on display.

The public has long been disappointed by promises of flying cars, but hopes have nevertheless been mounting that an aerial taxi could become a reality.

Analysts with Morgan Stanley have said they expect urban air taxis to be common by 2040, with the global market expected to be between $1.4 trillion and $2.9 trillion in size by then. At least 20 companies are working to that end, including start-ups, the aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus, and automakers like Toyota and Porsche.

Daniel Wiegand, a founder of Lilium, one of the most promising and secretive start-ups in the field, told The New York Times recently that within five years a fleet of his company’s vehicles could be ferrying passengers between Manhattan and Kennedy International Airport.

But a number of challenges await. Building an air taxi that is quiet, safe and economical will mean overcoming several engineering and technical hurdles. Battery technology is limited, and the cost of operation and maintenance needs to be low enough to make rides commercially viable.

And then there is a long road to regulatory approval. According to Morgan Stanley, air taxis will probably be used first in package delivery, which has fewer technical and regulatory barriers.

In its Monday announcement, Hyundai said it would be able to bring “automotive-scale manufacturing” to Uber Elevate, the company’s aerial ride-hailing division. Hyundai would help produce and deploy the aircraft while Uber would handle support, ground connections and the customer interface.

Hyundai’s concept car, the S-A1, is designed to cruise 1,000 to 2,000 feet above the ground at 180 miles per hour. It would take trips up to 60 miles and seat four passengers and a pilot, though the aircraft would eventually be capable of autonomous flight.

During peak hours, the S-A1 would take about five to seven minutes to recharge, Hyundai said. Multiple rotors would allow for vertical takeoff and landing and be quieter than large-rotor helicopters with combustion engines — a feature critical to its use in cities, according to the company.

Uber has said it plans to host flight demonstrations this year and make its service commercially available in 2023. In addition to Hyundai, its partners include the Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell, Embraer, Joby Aviation and several real estate companies. It has also signed agreements with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop ideas related to the infrastructure and technology of a crewless aerial network.

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Uber and Postmates File Suit to Block California Freelancer Law

Uber and Postmates filed a lawsuit in federal court in California on Monday, seeking an injunction to prevent the state’s landmark freelancer law from taking effect against them on Jan. 1 as scheduled.

The action underlines how high the stakes are for Uber and Postmates with the new California law, called Assembly Bill 5. The law could potentially threaten their businesses because under it, workers must be classified as employees rather than contractors under certain conditions, such as if a company controls how they do their work or if the work is a regular part of the company’s business.

Most employment experts have said the new law will require Uber and its rival, Lyft, along with delivery services like Postmates, to classify their drivers in California as employees. That could add 20 to 30 percent to Uber’s and Lyft’s labor costs and lead to many hundreds of millions of dollars in additional expenses a year, if not more.

As employees, drivers would be protected by minimum wage and overtime rules and would be eligible for workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. The companies would have to pay half of their payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security.

Postmates said it was seeking to delay the law from taking effect to gain time to figure out a compromise so that its workers would not be classified as full-time employees. Postmates and Uber argued in their complaint that California’s State Legislature had exempted certain industries while denying an exemption to what are known as “gig work” companies on essentially irrational grounds.

The suit is unlikely to stop the law from taking effect against workers outside the gig companies. A federal judge will decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction blocking the law from being enforced against the gig companies, which could later turn into a permanent injunction.

Uber said in a statement that it was bringing a legal challenge against the new law “on the basis of lack of equal protection and due process under both federal and state law.” The ride-hailing company declined to comment further.

Postmates said, “This lawsuit is an effort to preserve on-demand work opportunities,” added that it was urging state lawmakers, organized labor and Gov. Gavin Newsom to negotiate a compromise.

But Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, the bill’s author, said in a statement that “Uber is in court bizarrely trying to say A.B. 5 is unconstitutional.” She added, “The one clear thing we know about Uber is they will do anything to try to exempt themselves from state regulations that make us all safer and their driver employees self-sufficient.”

Uber and Lyft both said in documents they filed in anticipation of their public offerings in 2019 that having to classify drivers as employees could significantly hurt their financial performance. Both companies’ stocks have dropped since they went public this year.

California legislators passed the new law in September and it was signed into law. Uber, one of the main targets of the legislation, had previously declared that it did not plan to reclassify its drivers as employees and that it thought its drivers could retain their independent status even under the new law. Uber and Lyft have both also announced that they would each kick in $30 million for a state ballot initiative to essentially exempt their drivers from the new law.

In addition to Uber and Postmates, two workers — one who drives using Uber and another who delivers food through the Postmates app — also joined the lawsuit.

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Uber Settles Federal Investigation Into Workplace Culture

SAN FRANCISCO — In 2017, a former Uber employee wrote a public essay describing how the ride-hailing company had permitted sexual harassment to fester at the workplace.

The revelations led to an outcry over Uber’s toxic culture. Federal authorities and others began investigations into the company. More than 20 employees were later fired over their part in the behavior. And the disclosures raised questions about Uber’s growth-at-all-costs mentality, resulting in the ouster of Travis Kalanick, a co-founder and then the chief executive.

On Wednesday, Uber resolved one investigation into its workplace culture. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has been examining the company since 2017, said it had “found reasonable cause to believe that Uber permitted a culture of sexual harassment and retaliation against individuals who complained about such harassment.”

Uber said it had agreed to a settlement with the agency by establishing a $4.4 million fund to pay current and former employees who were sexually harassed at work. It also agreed to three years of monitoring by a former agency commissioner to ensure that it changes its practices.

“This agreement will hopefully empower women in technology to speak up against sexism in the workplace knowing that their voices can yield meaningful change,” ƒe said in a statement.

Tony West, Uber’s chief legal officer, said the company had “worked hard to ensure that all employees can thrive at Uber by putting fairness and accountability at the heart of who we are and what we do” and was working with the commission to improve those efforts.

The settlement showed how Uber was addressing the repercussions of its internal conduct more than two years after the envelope-pushing behavior of its executives and employees first came to light.

The company remains under investigation by the Justice Department over a tool it created to help it evade scrutiny by law enforcement authorities. It is also the subject of a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission over its privacy practices until 2038. Last month, the authorities in London said they would not extend the company’s license to operate there because Uber did not meet the “fit and proper” standard needed to hold a taxi license.

Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive, pledged to turn around Uber when he joined the company in late 2017, saying that his motto was “do the right thing.” He then replaced much of the senior leadership, eliminated a mandatory arbitration provision for sexual assault and harassment claims against the company, and said that executive compensation would be tied to whether or not Uber reached its goals for hiring a more diverse staff.

Uber has also tried to be more transparent about its track record on safety and harassment. This month, it released its first report documenting the number of sexual assaults that occurred in the United States during Uber rides. Uber said it had counted 3,045 sexual assaults in 2018, which it said represented a small fraction of its rides.

Uber’s workplace culture first became an issue in February 2017 when a former engineer, Susan Fowler, detailed how her complaints about sexual harassment at the company were brushed aside because the man who had harassed her was considered a high performer. Ms. Fowler now works as an editor at The New York Times.

“The tech industry, among others, has often ignored allegations of sexual harassment when an accused harasser is seen as more valuable to the company than the accuser,” said William Tamayo, the San Francisco district director of the employment commission.

In the aftermath, Mr. Kalanick faced scrutiny for putting growth ahead of how Uber’s employees were treated. Uber was also found to have engaged in other dubious tactics to protect its business, including using data collected from its app and other techniques to identify and sidestep law enforcement, a scheme known as “Greyball.”

As part of the settlement announced on Wednesday, Uber employees who worked at the company after January 2014 will be eligible to submit claims to the commission.

Uber said it would also develop tools to help it respond proactively to harassment accusations. The company said it would begin identifying employees who have been the subject of more than one harassment complaint, and identify managers who don’t respond quickly when their employees raise complaints of harassment.

A spokeswoman for the commission said it was pleased with the $4.4 million settlement, which is a tiny amount for Uber. The company’s revenue totaled $3.8 billion in its most recent quarter. In October, Intel paid $5 million as part of a settlement with the Labor Department over allegations of pay discrimination.

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Uber in Talks to Sell Its Food-Delivery Business in India

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber is in advanced discussions to sell its food-delivery business in India, according to two people with knowledge of the plans, as the company moves to stem its losses.

The ride-hailing company is nearing a deal to sell its Uber Eats service in India to Zomato, an Indian food-delivery service, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to do so publicly. The sale could be announced as early as this week, they said.

A spokesman for Uber declined to comment. The talks were earlier reported by TechCrunch, which said a deal would value the India business of Uber Eats at $400 million.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, has been trying to pare back money-losing businesses to prove to investors that the company can turn a profit. Investors have agitated both in public and behind the scenes for Uber to clean up its balance sheet since it went public earlier this year.

Uber’s initial public offering in May was a disappointment, with the company’s shares immediately plunging as investors questioned how much money the ride-hailing service loses. That event marked a turn in sentiment around high-profile-but-unprofitable tech start-ups, many of which had burned cash for years in the pursuit of growth. WeWork, another highly valued start-up, later shelved its plans for an I.P.O. as private investors cut the company’s valuation to a fraction of its former worth.

Investors have recently homed in on several issues at Uber, according to two people briefed on the conversations. Those include continued regulatory challenges around the world — most recently, transportation authorities said they would not extend Uber’s taxi license in London, one of its biggest markets — and ballooning expenditures.

Some investors have privately grumbled that Uber also paid too much for Careem, a Dubai-based ride-hailing and delivery company that Uber announced this spring it would acquire for $3.1 billion.

According to two people familiar with the matter, investors have also privately complained to Mr. Khosrowshahi about the expense of its Advanced Technologies Group, which develops self-driving vehicles. No decisions have been made about the unit, these people said, which has more than 1,000 full-time employees.

While Uber Eats has been a bright spot for revenue growth, the company has offered subsidies and free promotional offerings to gain new users, which has been expensive. In a conference call with investors last month, Mr. Khosrowshahi said his plan for Uber Eats was to take first or second place in every city it operates.

“If we can’t make it to that level, we’ll look to dispose or we’ll get out of the market,” he said at the time.

In India particularly, Uber Eats has struggled to sign up restaurants, diners and delivery agents in a brutally competitive market where Zomato and other delivery start-ups like Swiggy are well established. Uber has had to offer heavy incentives to lure customers there.

In September, Uber also announced that it was pulling its Eats business out of South Korea, where the company faced stiff competition from local start-ups.

Mr. Khosrowshahi has previously retreated in ride-hailing in Southeast Asia, where the company faces difficulties competing. In 2017, under then-chief executive Travis Kalanick, Uber pulled out of China, where the company was burning billions of dollars. That same year, Uber largely withdrew from Russia.

Mike Isaac reported from San Francisco and Katie Benner from Washington. Vindu Goel contributed reporting from India.