Uber enters leasing pact for borrowers who can’t secure auto loans

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Uber Technologies Inc. is going nationwide with a program that helps those without a car — or the financial means to get one — drive for the ride-hailing giant.

Since January, Uber has partnered in California with flexible car-leasing startup Fair to supply vehicles to drivers for a $185 refundable security deposit. Drivers can then earn that much in credits from Uber if they complete 70 trips a week, which can effectively offset payments owed to Fair.

“Uber wants to really find a way to lower the barrier or the hurdle to getting into a car,” Scott Painter, Fair’s founder and chief executive officer, said in a phone interview about the program, which is expanding to 10 major markets across the U.S. “This is designed specifically to attract drivers who may not even have enough credit to get a traditional car loan of any kind.”

Uber agreed to sell its subprime-lending unit to Fair in January 2018, which gave the startup access to a pool of drivers that now make up roughly half of the company’s more than 30,000 active users. Initially conceived as a way to help new drivers get started, Uber’s unit formerly known as Xchange Leasing racked up losses and drew criticism for saddling drivers with financial commitments they struggled to meet.

Painter said Fair’s model will be less risky because the company is more flexible about allowing drivers to return a car when they want and isn’t requiring them to make a significant financial commitment over a years-long lease.

Fair also maintains a digital link to a user’s bank account or credit card. While the company runs a credit check off an applicant’s driver’s license, there’s no traditional financing process needed because Fair maintains ownership of the vehicle.

Uber is expected to report a net loss of about $1 billion when it reports first-quarter earnings Thursday afternoon. Shares of the San Francisco-based company were little changed as of 10:30 a.m. in New York.

Ahead of its $8.1 billion initial public offering this month, drivers staged protests and strikes in major cities across the U.S. and U.K. over low wages and unstable working conditions. The company warned in its IPO prospectus that driver dissatisfaction could increase as it tries to reduce incentives and improve financial performance.

Bloomberg News
Gig economy Credit cards Subprime lending Uber