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Luc Vincent, Lyft's autonomous vehicle chief, announced the company's plans to establish a self-driving car unit. (Photo credit: Lyft)

The competition level between ride-sharing services Uber and Lyft just got ratcheted up another notch as Lyft announced plans to establish its own autonomous vehicle arm.

The move just adds to Uber’s ongoing problems that recently culminated in the departure of company founder and now former CEO Travis Kalanick, who was basically forced out by investors last month.

Lyft, which counts General Motors among its substantive investor base, plans to have a self-driving car team staffed with hundreds of engineers by the end of next year.

The timing is important, not because Uber has some sort of self-driving goal set up for that time frame, but because Lyft will begin testing its new autonomous platform it developed in concert with autonomous vehicle software supplier nuTonomy.

(Jaguar Land Rover teaming up with Lyft. Click Here for the story.)

Massachusetts-based nuTonomy has self-driving car project and partnerships in various testing stages in the U.S. as well as in Singapore. The new division of Lyft will be based in Palo Alto, California, in a building it dubbed “Level 5,” which is also the highest level of autonomous vehicles.

“This is too strategic an area for us not to be a player,” said Luc Vincent, Lyft’s vice president of autonomy, at the press conference announcing the deal. “We want to take an active role.”

The moves only served to highlight Uber’s ongoing struggles, which include investigations about sexual harassment, a slowly progressing autonomous vehicle testing program, the departure of Anthony Levandowski, who headed up Uber’s self-driving car program, and last, but not least, the argument between the aforementioned Kalanick and an Uber driver about pay and conditions that was recorded.

(Click Here for details about Lyft’s development deal with Waymo.)

Like any good rival, Vincent couldn’t help himself from poking at Uber during the announcement.

“The Lyft brand is strong, we are caring, we’re nice people, we work with drivers and partners and passengers,” he said.

Lyft also has a partnership in place with Waymo and through nuTonomy’s deal with French automaker PSA, it’s conceivable that could be come a trio as well.

(“Passenger economy” will grow to $7 trillion by 2050, Intel predicts. For the story, Click Here.)

“At Lyft, we imagine a world where car ownership is optional and cities are designed for people instead of cars. Partnering with nuTonomy is an important step towards making this vision a reality. The nuTonomy team is one of the first movers in autonomous vehicle development, and we look forward to working with them to bring their autonomous vehicles to the Lyft network,” said Logan Green, CEO and co-founder of Lyft.

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