GM President Dan Ammann says the automaker hasn’t “fully defined” the paths to its plans for commercial autonomous vehicles. Photo credit: CHINA HALEY
DETROIT — General Motors has reaped financial benefits and learnings from its $500 million investment in the ride-hailing company Lyft Inc.; however, the long-term parameters of the relationship between the two remain uncertain.
GM President Dan Ammann, a Lyft board member who was instrumental in putting together the investment, says the automaker has not yet “fully defined” the paths to plans it announced last month to launch commercial autonomous vehicles at scale beginning in 2019, including what role Lyft would play.
“What we’ve said is, we will have probably some combination of our own full capability on the one hand, potentially supplemented with some partnerships on the other,” he told Automotive News last week
Based on the outcome of a recent funding round for Lyft, Ammann figured, GM has gotten a roughly 50 percent return on its $500 million investment, which was announced in January 2016.
When the deal was struck, GM and Lyft cast it as a “long-term strategic alliance to create an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles in the U.S.” But the relationship between the two has grown increasingly complicated as each company has pursued other partnerships with overlapping business lines.
Lyft is increasingly partnering with and being funded by companies that rival GM, such as Ford Motor Co. and an investment unit of Google parent company Alphabet Inc., which is also a partner with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles through its self-driving-car unit, Waymo.
Lyft’s partnership with Ford was announced in September. It involves Lyft deploying Ford self-driving vehicles into ride-hailing fleets in large numbers by 2021. Ford sees the alliance as a pillar of its strategy to commercialize self-driving technology.
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GM, meanwhile, has announced several initiatives that could assist but also compete against Lyft, including the acquisition of Cruise Automation as an autonomous vehicle development company, the plans announced with Cruise last month to deploy self-driving taxis in cities by 2019, the launch of the Maven brand for short-term car rentals and other mobility ventures and a brief partnership between Maven and Uber, Lyft’s chief competitor.
Both Lyft and GM have contended that the tie-up was never an exclusive deal. GM hasn’t made any additional investments in Lyft, a company spokesman confirmed.
GM, according to Ammann, plans to expand its mobility operations, including autonomous ride-hailing, globally. Through its Cruise Automation subsidiary, GM is testing autonomous vehicles in three metropolitan areas, including a ride-hailing service for Cruise employees in San Francisco. It plans to expand testing to New York City in 2018.
Ammann said GM benefits considerably from having the engineering and manufacturing resources in-house to pursue its ambitions in electrified and autonomous vehicles, but partnerships such as the Lyft deal and others have given it further insights into the emerging service side of the business.
Ammann described GM’s relationship with Lyft as “constructive” and a “good investment.”
“We have worked together on a number of projects and initiatives, where I think everybody has learned and continues to learn from those endeavors,” he said.
He cited Express Drive, a short-term rental program that makes GM vehicles available to Lyft drivers, as one of those opportunities, calling it “an initiative where between both sides, we were creating something that really hadn’t been done before in that way.”
The program launched in March 2016, followed by a similar arrangement between Maven and Uber about eight months later.
The Maven-Uber partnership, which was a 90-day pilot project, no longer exists, but drivers for Uber and other services can rent GM vehicles through Maven’s Gig rental program.
A spokesperson for Lyft didn’t respond to requests for comment last week.