09.27.2017 NY Times
Lyft Adds Ford to Its List of Self-Driving Car Partners
For Lyft, winning the race to create the first fully self-driving vehicles on the road is a far from lonely pursuit. The company’s ethos is the more partners, the merrier.
That approach explains the new tie-up between Lyft and Ford Motor. On Wednesday, the companies said they had struck a partnership to develop and test autonomous vehicle designs and technology, with the aim of putting Ford’s self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network in the future. As part of the agreement, the companies plan to focus on issues such as software design, customer experience and user interfaces.
“We’re focused on partnering with the auto industry because frankly, we think we can’t do this alone and need each other to be successful,” said Raj Kapoor, Lyft’s chief strategy officer. “It’s one thing to do tests with one or two cars. It’s a whole different world doing this on a large scale.”
The partnership represents another shift on the rapidly changing landscape for self-driving cars, where traditional automakers like General Motors and Silicon Valley companies including Waymo and Uber are all jockeying for the lead.
Lyft has tried to position itself as an agnostic player in the autonomous vehicle industry with its Open Platform Initiative, under which it will cooperate with car manufacturers to test their self-driving cars and use their technology on its ride-hailing network. The self-driving start-up nuTonomy and Land Rover, among others, have already joined.
At the same time, Lyft has also opened a new self-driving research facility in Palo Alto, Calif., and plans to recruit new engineering and autonomous vehicle researchers to develop its own autonomous vehicle technology.
Lyft must be careful that it does not alienate any of the large group of partners it is trying to bring to the table. Allies like Waymo, one of Google’s sister companies, which has agreed to work on self-driving technology with Lyft, could eventually become a competitor if Waymo ever decides to create its own ride-hailing network.
Some tension has already become evident. Since Lyft began its partnership push, G.M., one of Lyft’s biggest investors and partners, has started to test its own version of a ride-hailing network with some of its employees. G.M.’s self-driving efforts are largely based on the technology developed by Cruise Automation, the start-up the automaker purchased last year for more than $1 billion.
Ford, which is in the midst of a turnaround under a new chief executive, Jim Hackett, has also bet big on autonomous vehicles as part of its future. Ford pledged to invest $1 billion in Argo AI, a start-up that is developing machine learning and artificial intelligence for self-driving cars, over the next five years.
For its part, Ford does not appear concerned with Lyft’s growing web of partnerships.
“Some view the opportunity with self-driving vehicles as a race to be first,” Sherif Marakby, who leads Ford’s autonomous vehicle efforts, said in a company blog post. “We are focusing our efforts on building a service based around actual people’s needs and wants.”