A soft-spoken Kalanick, ex-Uber CEO, testifies in U.S. car secrets trial

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Former Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick testified at a high-stakes trial on Tuesday and publicly addressed for the first time allegations by Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Waymo that Uber stole its self-driving car technology.

In testimony in San Francisco federal court in a trade secrets lawsuit, Kalanick acknowledged he wrote an internal email highlighting the existential importance of self-driving cars for ride-hailing firm Uber.

“Autonomous transportation is very possibly a winner take all, and thus existential for Uber,” Kalanick wrote in the email.

And yet, Uber has fallen short, Kalanick said. When Waymo attorney Charles Verhoeven asked if Kalanick agreed Google is the industry leader for self-driving cars, the Uber co-founder said: “I think that’s the general perception right now.”

The testimony marks Kalanick’s first public statements on the Waymo lawsuit, the most serious legal threat that Uber faces. The famously hard-charging and combative executive appeared in court in a business suit and tie and offered soft-spoken responses, suggestive of the seriousness of the situation.

Waymo sued Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] a year ago, saying one of Waymo’s engineers, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded thousands of confidential documents in December 2015 before Kalanick hired him at Uber in 2016.

How Kalanick presents himself, and the company he co-founded in 2009, to the jury is crucial. Waymo has positioned Kalanick as a main figure in the case, emphasizing his competitive nature and desire to win at all costs.

During the trial’s opening statements on Monday, a Waymo attorney said competitive pressures between the two companies were so great to develop self-driving cars that Kalanick decided “winning was more important than obeying the law.”

Reporting by Dan Levine; Writing by Heather Somerville; editing by Peter Henderson and Grant McCool