Lyft has announced a deal with NuTonomy to put a fleet of fully autonomous ride hailing cars on the streets of Boston “within months”.
The ride-hailing company plans to put thousands of driverless cars on the city’s roads as part of an ambitious plan to convert most of its fleet to self-driving cars by 2021. It will start with just one car, though, which is the Renault Zoe that is not for sale on US soil.
Lyft, like Uber, works with self-employed owner drivers, but that’s not the long-term plan.
A fleet of self-driving cars is the future and Lyft has formed a number of partnerships with major companies in recent months in a bid to make it happen. Those companies include Google’s Waymo.
How do Lyft, NuTonomy and Waymo fit?
This is perhaps the hardest part of the equation to reconcile, as both NuTonomy and Waymo focus solely on self-driving software. None of the companies actually want to build a car.
NuTonomy is an MIT-backed company that was formed in 2013 and has operated autonomous taxis in Singapore for a year. Now it has permission to put its cars on the road in Boston, which is a major coup in and could have been the catalyst for this potentially lucrative deal.
How Lyft plans to work with both software providers is an interesting conundrum, though, and the company hasn’t revealed any details.
“What we’re doing with other partners is very different,” Green said. Pressed on how exactly they are different, he replied, “I can’t comment on those other programs.”
The GM/Lyft deal makes more sense
GM has also invested in Lyft to the tune of $500 million, which is easier to understand as Uber has created a number of tie-ups with rival manufacturers and GM potentially sees Lyft as a short-cut to a major stake in the lucrative ride-hailing future.
Lyft CEO John Zimmer recently claimed that nobody in the city would actually own a car by 2025, as part of a Tesla-style manifesto he published on Medium. But, for that to happen then the ride-hailing industry needs to go on a massive PR offensive right now.
Zimmer recently claimed that Uber’s self-driving pilot plans were simply a marketing stunt, but he clearly understands that this is radical technology and the best way to get the public to accept autonomous rides is to provide them.
Lyft is raising its game
For years, Lyft labored in the shadow of tech unicorn Uber, but now the companies have gone in radically different directions.
Uber has set to work on its own self-driving technology, including LiDAR, which has caused it problems and lately has damaged its reputation thanks to the Anthony Levandowski scandal.
Now Lyft is closing the gap. It closed a $500 million round of funding recently, which raised the company’s valuation to $7.5 billion. The deals with Waymo and GM have helped Lyft’s reputation and this latest move to actually put self-driving cars on the road should keep the San Francisco-based company in the ascendancy.
Strategic partnerships like this are turning Lyft from an afterthought in the ride-hailing landscape into a serious contender. Finally, the rubber is about to meet the road in Boston and we’ll watch Lyft’s progress with interest.