- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2016

General Motors and Lyft — titans of the automobile and rideshare industries, respectively — announced a partnership Monday that aims to bring on-demand, self-driving cars to American roadways within the next decade.

GM said Monday that it is investing $500 million in Lyft, the San Francisco-based rideshare startup, while the two companies work together toward creating a network of “on-demand, autonomous” automobiles.

“We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous,” GM President Dan Ammann said in a statement. “With GM and Lyft working together, we believe we can successfully implement this vision more rapidly.”

GM will gain a seat on Lyft’s board of directors in exchange for the half-billion-dollar investment, and together the two plan to embark on a yearslong relationship that Lyft President John Zimmer said will “build a better future by redefining traditional car ownership.”

At the center of that plan is an autonomous on-demand network — a fleet of self-driving automobiles that aims to combine GM’s in-progress robots research with the touch-of-a-button rideshare service that has already allowed millions of customers around the globe to use a smartphone app to get from Point A to Point B.

Although specifics of the driverless rideshare network have yet to be cemented, GM said the system will leverage the automaker’s “deep knowledge of autonomous technology” with Lyft’s “broad choice of ride-hailing services.”

“A lot of the work will be centered around integrating capabilities that already exist,” Mr. Ammann told The Wall Street Journal. At the same time, however, he added that he hopes the venture will pave the way for a new type of service in which customers will dial up more than just a hassle-free cab ride.

“We’ll create the operating system of the future where people will be able to order an experience,” Mr. Zimmer told Buzzfeed. “If you’re heading to Tahoe with your family, you’ll get to order a specific kind of autonomous experience where you get to enjoy movies on your trip. Or, [if you need a ride] after work, you can get a sports Lyft and watch a Clippers game with friends. Now that we have this partnership, we can create these sort of experiences with this network.”

The Lyft president added that he expects the fleet of self-driving cars to be linked to his company’s rideshare platform “within the next 10 years, likely sooner.”

In the meantime, GM will also begin immediately providing short-term-use vehicles for Lyft drivers at rental hubs in certain U.S. cities, the likes of which will be equipped with the automaker’s OnStar navigation system and other 21st century bells and whistles.

Lyft’s current on-demand service spawned roughly 7 million rides per month during 2015 across more than 190 cities in the U.S., with the company having grossed an annual run rate of $1 billion as of October.

The $500 million investment pledged by GM this week accounts for half of the $1 billion venture financing round that just wrapped up for Lyft and left the company valued at around $4.5 billion — a significant sum, indeed, but merely a fraction of the $62.5 billion that competing rideshare service Uber was recently valued at. 

For its part, Uber is conducting its own research with regards to autonomous cars. Google, which also is testing driverless cars, invested $250 million in Uber in 2013.

Some automakers are getting into the market by themselves. Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, rents out tiny Smart cars in 28 European and U.S. cities via its Car2Go service, and German rival BMW rents out electric cars through its Drive Now service. According to The Associated Press, Tesla is also thought to be working on autonomous software and ride-hailing plans.

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