What we don't know about Waymo-Lyft partnership includes when and where they plan to start "ride hailing" operations, and which self-driving car platform Lyft might eventually use for its autonomous driving services.
Lyft, a ride-service company, is trumpeting the partnership with Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Google’s parent company Alphabet, but no one in the newly partnered team is providing much info on what comes next.
What we don’t know includes when and where they plan to start “ride hailing” operations, and which self-driving car platform Lyft might eventually use for its self-driving ride services.
As with any press announcement, a dearth of detail opens the door to speculation, along with some interesting insights and interpretations.
1. Lyft and GM going separate ways?
Lyft previously announced a similar partnership deal with General Motors, a Lyft investor. Does the new partnership with Waymo mean Lyft is unhappy with GM’s Cruise-based self-driving car platform?
Roger Lanctot, director of automotive connected mobility for the global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, told us, “Lyft and GM appear to be increasingly at odds – going their own separate ways.”
GM announced last year that it will use Lyft to launch its first self-driving car based on Cruise Automation technology it acquired. (Source: Cruise Automation)
The news, however, might also mean that Lyft suddenly has gained almost an unfair advantage against its competitors in regard to self-driving software and hardware platforms.
“It is interesting to note that Lyft will be able to compare GM Cruise Autonomous Driving (AD) status versus Waymo AD capabilities,” said Egil Juliussen, director research for infotainment and ADAS at IHS Automotive. This applies unless there are no specific rules that prohibit Lyft from exploiting this advantage.
Mike Demler, a senior analyst at the Linley Group, agrees. “Lyft seems pretty committed to working with GM after their $500M investment, so it’s interesting that they would now announce a relationship with Waymo. Apparently, GM doesn’t mind or they would have made their relationship exclusive,” Demler said. In his opinion, “In the long run, it could help the GM-Lyft plan as well, since Lyft will learn a lot that will be beneficial to the vehicles they develop with them.”
2. Natural evolution for Lyft and Waymo?
Next, is this a move by Lyft to catch up with Uber, or for Waymo to get into real-world services?
As IHS Automotive’s Juliussen put it, this is a “natural evolution” for both Lyft and Waymo.
For Lyft, a distant No. 2 to Uber in U.S. ride-hailing business, what better way to challenge Uber -- which has been struggling with legal problems -- than by partnering with Waymo?
Meanwhile, Waymo has announced that it will begin testing a self-driving car program with hundreds of families in Phoenix. Juliussen said, “Waymo’s Arizona testing is one step, and Lyft is an expansion of this trend.”
The key to understand Lyft’s motive here is that “Waymo’s technology is more advanced than GM/Cruise’s,” Demler noted. “So it helps Lyft accelerate their autonomous taxi plans.”
He added, “The deal would obviously help Waymo get immediate access to Lyft’s platform as a means to begin early testing with a commercial service, rather than the more limited testing they can do on their own.”
Next page: Has Waymo developed its own autonomous car inference engine?