What Does the Lyft, Waymo Partnership Mean for GM?

Lyft and Waymo confirmed a partnership with each other yesterday to advance autonomous cars, appearing to provide evidence that Lyft might be distancing itself from its other major self-driving car partner — General Motors Co.

However, that’s just the appearance. GM has invested $500 million in Lyft to develop autonomous vehicle technology together, and has teamed up for a slew of other programs between the two companies — including Lyft Express Drive and Maven — which means GM’s relationship with Lyft is not about to change, several GM spokespeople told Mobility Finance.

“The announced partnership between Waymo and Lyft does not affect our existing relationship with Lyft,” the spokespeople confirmed. “We continue to work with Lyft on various aspects of our business.”

Considering the significant overlap of company partnerships and investments — Uber, Lyft, Didi, Google, Apple, GM, Ford, Toyota — nearly every autonomous vehicle player is tied together in some way. To that end, it is unclear exactly how the new partnership between Waymo and Lyft will operate. For instance, Waymo is working with Fiat Chrysler on a fleet of minivans and is in talks with Honda about a possible deal that would put Waymo technology in Honda test vehicles.

While the relationship between GM and Lyft may not alter, the partnership between Lyft and Waymo might bring GM to directly compete with a Waymo partner, or Waymo and GM may make their own partnership directly with each other.

Previously, GM-owned Maven and Uber — Lyft and Waymo’s mutual rival — created a partnership that allows Uber drivers to rent cars by the week for both rideshare and personal use. At the time of that announcement in November 2016, Lyft said that it did not expect its relationship with GM to change.

“Similar to how we work with Hertz and Maven on Express Drive, it’s expected that vehicle access programs have multiple partners,” a Lyft spokeswoman said in a published report, adding that these programs are unrelated to Lyft’s work with GM on autonomous driving which is the center of the companies’ relationship.

“A lot of people will go under,” Grayson Brulte, president of Brulte & Co., told Mobility Finance in April, as too many companies are competing in a very tight space. The winner, he said, will be based on consumer trust.

“Everyone is trying to figure out their little niche, but the ones at the end of the day that will win is, who tells the best story? Who do the consumers trust the most? And today, I believe by far the leader is Google’s Waymo,” Brulte said.

Few manufacturers have that trust factor, he added.

“They can build it,” he said,”but they are going to have to completely rethink how to introduce the technology to the public.”

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