As it seeks to spread its app-based taxi service around the world, Uber has enlisted some extreme political firepower, hiring David Plouffe, President Obama’s former campaign manager, to be a senior vice president of policy and strategy.
Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick described Plouffe as “a strategic thought partner” and the company’s new field general in its war against traditional taxi companies. “From the moment I met him, I had a lot of chemistry with him and a shared vision for what Uber is and how to approach getting our story out there and letting people know all the great things we are bringing to cities,” Kalanick said in a conference call with reporters.
Plouffe is no stranger to political combat. He ran the Obama presidential election campaign in 2008 and was a White House senior adviser from 2011 to 2013. Most recently, he was a contributor to Bloomberg TV and ABC News, though he will relinquish those roles when he formally joins Uber next month. “I believe Uber has a chance to be a once-in-a-generation company,” Plouffe said on the conference call.
In addition to leading Uber’s lobbying efforts in markets where regulatory resistance is stiff, Plouffe is also clearly out to recast the company’s image. As part of the hiring announcement, Kalanick introduced a new, more ambitious mission statement: “Our mission is simple: transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone,” which presumably complements the old motto, “Everyone’s private driver.” Noting that Uber has launched its service in more than 170 cities and 43 countries, Plouffe pointed out that the service is active in all of those cities except one (Vancouver, where a local ordinance requires a minimum $75 fare for limo trips. There has also been recent resistance in Berlin, where the service was banned over safety concerns.)
“We have 170 wins on the board and one loss,” Plouffe said. “It’s a good start, but the opposition is gearing up and we need to take our efforts to the next level.”
Both Kalanick and Plouffe also claimed that Uber has increased employment, lowered the rate of traffic accidents, and reduced distracted driving and traffic congestion. It’s not clear whether that is actually true—there have been plenty of anecdotal examples of Uber bringing unlicensed and unsafe drivers onto the road. Plouffe’s biggest job may be making sure the company can back up those dramatic assertions.