If you’ve lived in a major city in the past four years, chances are you’ve used a ride-sharing app. The big dog, of course, is Uber, the $62.5 billion juggernaut that operates in 68 countries (and counting), and ranks as one of the most powerful companies in America. But if there’s a David to Uber’s Goliath, it’s Lyft, the San Francisco-based company that’s identified by its highlighter pink mustache logo. It may not be as ubiquitous as Uber, but the company has just completed a $1 billion round of financing, raising its valuation to $5.5 billion. And a whopping $500 million of that has come from General Motors.
The ride-sharing company and automotive giant will team up to develop a network of autonomous vehicles that can accessed through the Lyft app, and give GM president Dan Amman a seat on the company’s board. “We think there’s going to be more change in the world of mobility in the next five years than there has been in the last 50,” Amman said, adding, “From a G.M. perspective, we view this as much more of an opportunity than a threat.”
While the American auto industry has been historically resistant to change, the advent of ride-sharing and autonomous cars are set to dominate the conversation in the next decade, and Detroit doesn’t want to be left out in the lurch. The GM-Lyft partnership comes just days after news leaked that Google and Ford are working to develop an autonomous ride-sharing company of their own, a move that’s expected to be officially announced at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about these recent developments is that automakers are investing in technologies that could work to shrink the market in ways that would keep most auto execs up at night. Ride-sharing became popular in large cities first, and its first victims were established taxi systems. Still, if you call an Uber or Lyft today, you’re likely to see a Toyota Camry or Chevy Suburban pull up to your door – pretty standard stuff. But as ride-sharing grows, it becomes clear that fewer people want to own their own cars. And as autonomous technology becomes more commonplace, it becomes clear that even fewer people want to drive them.
Ford and GM don’t want a repeat of their false starts in the EV market, where both brands are still struggling to field “Tesla-killers” in a rapidly growing and evolving market. But they’re finally beginning to look to Silicon Valley for partnerships, not competitors. California-based startup Faraday Future seems to be building a model similar to the Ford-Google/GM-Lyft projects. According to Faraday founder Nick Sampson: “Uber, for instance, is a new way of traveling, a new way of getting about. Some people are considering not even having a car. The cars of the future have got to meet those needs.” He adds, “I don’t have to buy one compromise vehicle, I can just have use of the perfect model when I need it, like a subscription service. We now subscribe to music; we used to buy music.”
We’ll know a lot more after CES next week, when Ford and Google go public with their relationship, and Farady Future sheds more light on whatever it is it’s doing. But with Detroit beginning to keep pace with these cutting-edge tech startups, it looks like the American automotive industry may finally be learning from the stubborn mistakes it made in the past – even if it means a radical reinvention of the automobile as we know it. Ride-sharing and autonomous cars may be the last thing a gearhead wants to hear about, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Just ask Ford and GM.
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