Unsealed texts show Travis Kalanick was cocky about China before Uber got creamed there

  • The text messages are between then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Anthony Levandowski, a former engineer from Alphabet's Waymo who later founded a start-up that was acquired by Uber.
  • The two companies are feuding about whether Levandowski used a Google trade secret at Uber.
  • China, Elon Musk and Larry Page are all up for discussion.
Travis Kalanick, Co-founder and CEO of Uber.
David Orrell | CNBC
Travis Kalanick, Co-founder and CEO of Uber.

A legal dispute between Alphabet and Uber has gotten personal, after text messages to and from Uber's former CEO were unsealed in court filings.

The text messages are between Uber's then-CEO Travis Kalanick and Anthony Levandowski, a former engineer from Alphabet's Waymo who later founded a start-up that was acquired by Uber. The two companies are feuding about whether Levandowski used a Google trade secret at Uber.

But the two technology executives had wide-ranging discussions around their rivals in autonomous driving, exchanging news articles and gossip, the text messages show.

Here are some of the highlights:

Levandowski draws a parallel between Kalanick and Gordon Gecko — and Kalanick explains how he keeps China "in check" 

On March 19, 2016, before Uber acquired Otto, Levandowski and Kalanick exchanged messages catching up on their recent "jam" session. The pair were apparently trying to prod an engineer, whose name is redacted in the filings.

"Internet, electricity, self driving cars and key things will always find a way," Levandowski texted Kalanick, linking to a YouTube clip from the 1987 movie "Wall Street." In the clip, the main character gives a famous speech of why "greed is good." "Here's the speech you need to give ;-)."

Kalanick briefly updated Levandowski on Uber's food delivery business, then wrote, "The way you keep China in check is showing up when they ask every once in a while."

But Uber was losing $1 billion a year in China, and by August, Uber sold its Chinese business to rival Didi Chuxing.

Levandowski was trying to get information from Tesla ... but also joked about starting a social media campaign against the company

On Sept. 14, after the acquisition was announced, Levandowski wrote, "Watch first 45seconds... Tesla crash in January which implies Elon is lying about millions of miles without incident. We should have LDP on tesla just to catch all the crashes that are going on. Got this from ford who's debating call him out on his sh--."

(Ford declined to comment, citing a policy against commenting on rumor and speculation.)

As engineering blog IEEE Spectrum previously reported, on Sept. 22, Levandowski texted: "Yo! I'm back at 80%, super pumped... we've got to start calling Elon on his sh--. I'm not on social media but let's start 'faketesla' and start give physics lessons about stupid sh-- Elon says ..."

But a month later, Levandowski texted: "I'm still with the tesla guys and will try to get more info."

Levandowski was scared of Google's technology

Levandowski texted he was scared of Android Auto, which was reportedly in high demand in May 2016. Other court filings have revealed that Uber wanted to partner with Google, but the relationship withered amid tension with Google co-founder Larry Page.

In September, Levandowski sent Kalanick an article titled "Larry Page is the reason we still don't have a Google self-driving car."

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