Like any good business reporter, Fortune’s Kia Kokalitcheva jumped on the news Tuesday of the Washington insider Elaine Chao’s appointment as transportation secretary by asking the most pertinent question: How does this affect the companies I cover? I recommend her report, which explores how Chao’s record as George W. Bush’s labor secretary and her subsequent policy pronouncements will affect the so-called ride-sharing industry.
The choice of Chao presents a nice stew of contradictions emblematic of the incoming administration. She has worked in Washington for years, a plus for a boss who never has, but not exactly a fresh start. Moreover, she’ll oversee a vast federal bureaucracy, whereas the issues that matter most to the fledgling transportation-oriented “gig” economy companies like Uber and Lyft—operational regulations and self-driving car rules—tend to be local.
Starting with the gig part of the equation, Chao is a fan of flexibility. She highlights the college educations of many who supplement their incomes as part-time drivers. She’ll undoubtedly favor less regulation, which all companies like. That said, Uber and Lyft already have fought state-by-state and city-by-city to establish regulations for their business. One wonders, as well, just how thoroughly the deregulatory crowd has thought through the likelihood that the mad-as-hell electorate is so excited to be ferrying around strangers to earn some extra cash.
As for autonomous cars, the secretary of transportation has a big role to play. Already, though, the Obama administration has signaled a desire to take a relatively hands-off approach. In September, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a DOT agency, issued a major report on self-driving vehicles intended as advice for industry rather than requirements. “We are issuing this policy as agency guidance rather than in a rulemaking in order to speed the delivery of an initial regulatory framework and best practices to guide manufacturers and other entities in the safe design, development, testing, and deployment of highly automated vehicles,” it wrote.
Fast action and a light touch sounds like a promising recipe, at least for these upstarts.
BITS AND BYTES
Intel shifts into higher gear. The microprocessor giant is reorganizing its strategy for the Internet of things, a move that includes creating a separate division focused on autonomous vehicles. Central to that effort will be Intel’s new alliance with Delphi, the big auto parts company, and Mobileye, the software company behind some of the “vision” systems in Tesla vehicles. It also poached an outsider to kickstart a new level of urgency: Tom Lantzsch, the former executive vice president of strategy at rival ARM. (Fortune, Fortune, New York Times)
Don’t call Uber a taxi company. The company’s lawyers decried that label Tuesday in Europe’s highest court. Several European Union countries want Uber classified as a transportation company, which would make it subject to related regulations. The label it prefers is online service provider, which means it could skirt them. A ruling isn’t anticipated until next year. (Wall Street Journal, New York Times)
Smartphone shipments are slowing quickly. An updated market forecast from International Data Corp. pegs worldwide sales at around 1.45 billion units for 2016. That would be another record, but it represents an expansion of just 1% compared with 10.4% in 2015. (Wall Street Journal)
Nissan finally bets on Internet-connected cars. Its first foray is a service that alerts vehicle owners when proactive maintenance is required. Rivals Toyota and Ford Motor have already announced similar options, and it looks like theirs will hit the road earlier. (Reuters)
The next Amazon Echo could have a touchscreen. The popular smart home appliance currently operates via voice commands. The move could be a preemptive measure to ward off competition from rivals Apple and Google. (Fortune, Bloomberg)
Big-data software company Splunk boosts its forecast. It expanded its business with more than 500 big corporate customers during its latest quarter, including Progressive Insurance, Emirates Airlines, and Zendesk. (Wall Street Journal)
Here’s how Nutanix did for its first quarter as a public company. The data center hardware company lost less money than anticipated and it added more than 705 customers, pushing its total to 4,473. (Reuters)
Amazon’s cloud isn’t just for startups anymore. Amazon Web Services used to be the public cloud of choice for scrappy cash-strapped startups. Small companies liked that they could buy (or rent) computer servers, networking, and storage as needed, typically with a credit card.
Tiny companies are unlikely to spend much on VMware data center software or Workday human resource applications. But the CEOs of both companies will share the stage this week with AWS CEO Andy Jassy at Amazon’s huge cloud confab. Indeed, Amazon is well into year six of a push for big business customers. Here’s how far the company has come.
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
How Facebook handles performance reviews. It encourages managers to focus less on identifying poor performers and more on understanding where an individual’s skills would be best applied. (Fortune)
A case of Brooklyn envy? Miami is the latest metropolis to reimagine an aging industrial neighborhood as a hub for tech innovation. Two private developers are investing $1 billion to create what they’ve dubbed Magic City, a 170,000-square-foot neighborhood catering to entrepreneurs. (New York Times)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The Trump Divide at IBM, by Ellen McGirt
Here’s Why the Next Apple May Not Be a Public Company, by Chris Matthews
Why Bitcoin Buyers Don’t Need to Panic Over IRS Probe of Coinbase, by Jeff John Roberts
R3 Blockchain Opens to All, by Robert Hackett
Here’s One Reason Why Facebook and Twitter Aren’t Good for News, by Mathew Ingram
SEC Calls Out Tesla for ‘Individually Tailored’ Earnings Figures, by Lucinda Shen