Lyft Inc. expects customers will be able to use its app to hail cars without drivers starting in 2023, the company said Wednesday. The self-driving rides will be powered by Motional Inc., an autonomous driving joint venture between Hyundai Motor Group and Aptiv Plc.
The announcement comes the week after Lyft’s larger rival, Uber Technologies Inc., sold its self-driving car unit to startup Aurora Innovation Inc., cutting loose the ambitious, but money-losing division as it focuses on turning a quarterly adjusted profit by the end of next year.
The Lyft partnership expands its 2018 arrangement with Aptiv, and later Motional, running paid self-driving taxi pilot rides in Las Vegas. But unlike those tests, the next iteration of the project will operate in more complicated urban environments and will include no human drivers in the cars at all, the companies said. That could also mean the rides would eventually be cheaper to operate.
“We’ve come up with a business model that’s profitable at scale for both companies,” said Raj Kapoor, Lyft’s chief strategy officer and head of its self-driving efforts. The companies did not disclose financial details of the project and declined to say which cities are slated for 2023 rollout.
Driverless vehicles have long generated fascination, hype and missed targets within the technology industry. In recent years, even optimistic companies and investors have acknowledged that fully autonomous cars will take more time and money than previously imagined. But while dreams have faded of ubiquitous robotaxis roaming the streets in the near term, the remaining contenders in the self-driving race have made progress in recent months.
In October, General Motors Co.’s Cruise LLC said it got a green light to test fully driverless cars in San Francisco, and Google’s Waymo expanded its fully driverless cars to all Phoenix customers. Earlier this week, Amazon’s self-driving unit Zoox announced that it would launch a driverless ride-hailing vehicle in San Francisco and Las Vegas, although it didn’t provide a date.
And while Uber sold its driverless research division to Aurora, following investor pressure to stem the unit’s losses, Uber also took a large stake in the ride-hailing startup and guaranteed that the vehicles will operate on its network if and when they eventually launch.
For Motional, which was introduced as a $4 billion joint venture earlier this year, the non-exclusive partnership with Lyft will provide it with a readymade customer base and the ability to quickly move from research and development to commercialization.
Motional Chief Executive Officer Karl Iagnemma said the arrangement will expedite the expansion of its current fleet of more than 100 autonomous vehicles. “This agreement marks the largest robotaxi deployment partnership for a major ridesharing network and is a quantum leap from Motional’s current partnership with Lyft,” he said.
Kapoor and Iagnemma both acknowledged skepticism around such announcements given the industry’s history of overpromising, but maintained that 2023 was a realistic goal. “Maybe the goal posts will move to 2024 or 2025,” Kapoor said, “but this is the goal post we and our partners feel comfortable with.”