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Uber drivers score discounted General Motors, Toyota vehicles

A Toyota Motor Corp. Corolla LE vehicle is

A Toyota Motor Corp. Corolla LE vehicle is introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show. (Nov. 21, 2013) Credit: Bloomberg News

People who sign up as drivers for Uber Technology Inc.’s car-booking service will be able to get discounted financing or leasing for vehicles made by Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co.

Drivers registered to pick up passengers, who request and pay for rides using Uber’s mobile application, will be able to go to a dealership and buy designated Toyota or GM cars approved for the program at lower rates through vehicle-financing companies, Uber chief executive  Travis Kalanick said in an interview.

Uber, based in San Francisco, is racing to keep up with demand as more people sign up and the company expands into new cities. Global usage in October increased more than 20 percent from the previous month, Kalanick said.

Dual goals

Uber, which plans to discuss the financing program in a conference call Tuesday, is seeking to boost the supply of cars on its service while creating opportunities for automakers to sell vehicles, he said.

“We need to make strategic moves so that we can supply those cars onto the system,” Kalanick said. “The demand is there, but if we don’t get the cars on the road — if we don’t help our partners and drivers get cars on the road — then it just doesn’t matter. We’re just not going to be able to grow.”

Kalanick declined to name the banks or companies financing or underwriting leases for Toyota and GM cars. Uber raised $258 million from Google Inc.’s venture-capital arm and other investors earlier this year, valuing the company at $3.5 billion, Kalanick said. Uber plans to invest in research and development, and expand beyond the 60 cities where it currently operates.

Driver pool

The auto-financing program will start on a trial basis for “thousands” of drivers, Kalanick said. Within a year, he aims to sell hundreds of thousands of cars through the program. Uber, which takes a cut of the fares booked through its system, said in April that it had “tens of thousands” of drivers.

In addition to finding people willing to drive, Uber is striving to maintain a level of quality among drivers, who are rated by passengers through the app.

Drivers are required to take a “city knowledge test,” and Uber is exploring other ways to help its road warriors, including integrated turn-by-turn directions, Kalanick said.

Founded in 2009, Uber competes with several apps that let users book rides, including Hailo, GetTaxi, Lyft, SideCar and Mytaxi.

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