In an effort to get self-driving cars to market faster, Lyft is taking its autonomous vehicles division out of the running.
A subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp., Woven Planet Holdings announced Tuesday it had acquired Lyft’s self-driving division, Level 5.
The $550 million deal follows a playbook that is becoming familiar in the autonomous vehicle industry — the partnership is meant to combine expertise from tech moguls and automotive manufacturers to speed up the commercialization of self-driving vehicles and take the cost burden off tech companies that have been footing the bill without seeing any profits.
Partnering with a ride-hail network like Lyft will also offer an already extensive network of customers, routes and data for the self-driving vehicles, company officials said Tuesday.
“Both Woven Planet and Level 5 are focused on improving mobility through technology, bringing about a future that benefits people around the world,” Luc Vincent, executive vice president for autonomous technology at Lyft, said in a statement. “With this deal in place, I am very excited that the Level 5 team will be better positioned than ever to deliver on its long term mission to bring autonomous vehicles to market.
“As part of Woven Planet, we will be able to leverage exceptional automotive engineering expertise as well as the considerable resources of an iconic business, while continuing to move with the energy and speed of a start-up.”
Last December, Lyft’s ride-hail and self-driving competitor Uber made a similar decision to exit the race to develop and commercialize autonomous cars.
Uber sold its self-driving division, Advanced Technologies Group, to tech startup Aurora, both with operations in Pittsburgh.
The acquisition, which included a sizable investment from Uber to Aurora, was meant to accelerate development of self-driving technology by combining expertise from both tech companies and utilizing Uber’s existing network of customers. It was also meant to quiet Uber investors who were worried about the cost of the technology.
Since then, Aurora has announced several partnerships meant to leverage the same resources and expertise that Lyft and Toyota hope to combine. Aurora has partnered with truck manufacturers including Paccar to automate parts of the trucking industry as well as Toyota and automotive supplier Denso to deploy its autonomous vehicle technology on ride-hailing networks.
Toyota had also previously invested in Uber’s ATG.
Aurora has headquarters in Lawrenceville, while Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group had office space in the Strip District and a test track in Hazelwood.
In Pittsburgh, Aurora is still competing with self-driving startups Argo AI and Motional to develop and commercialize autonomous vehicles.
Motional, which was formerly called Aptiv before teaming up with Hyundai Motor Group in March 2020 to create the new entity, has previously partnered with Lyft to test driverless vehicles on its ride-hail network.
In December, the two companies announced plans to launch robotaxi services in several U.S. cities beginning in 2023. The plan builds off a self-driving pilot in Las Vegas that the two companies launched three years ago.
Following the acquisition, Lyft’s Level 5 and Woven Planet Holdings will also work with the Toyota Research Institute, the research arm of the automotive manufacturer. The team will include about 1,200 employees and will have headquarters in Tokyo, London and Palo Alto.
*By LAUREN ROSENBLATT, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette*