The landscape of the autonomous driving industry has been taking shape this year, and it’s one that increasingly features Lyft more than its recently maligned rival, Uber. Coming into this week, Lyft had already formed partnerships with GM, Waymo (the Google spinoff), and Jaguar Land Rover to help bring those companies’ autonomous cars to the road. This week, they’re adding another major company that’s been driving towards autonomy — Ford.
Earlier this week, Ford Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification Sherif Marakby published a blog post detailing the new partnership with Lyft. Well, ‘detailing’ might not be the right word — there’s nothing in the way of hard numbers, investment, or a number of years. The basic idea is that Ford, which is building out its own autonomous cars and drive systems with the help of Argo AI (an AI company that Ford now has a majority stake in), will test their cars of the future using Lyft’s ride-hailing network. Like usual, this will involve test cars driven by humans first, with full autonomy still needing more software development, infrastructure, and a regulatory framework before it’s ready for real-world use.
The partnership is in line with the way Ford has long looked at autonomous driving. Early last year, Ford was branding itself as a mobility company and talking about plans for subscription-based transport — the implication being that Ford expects that fully autonomous vehicles will rarely, if ever, be sold to users. With the Lyft partnership, it sounds like Ford is being content to use another network of users that’s already been established, rather than pour resources into trying to build out one of their own.
For Lyft’s part, they’ve now built out a pretty formidable future fleet of autonomous cars from several sources. That might put them ahead of Uber — Uber’s plan to build their own autonomous drive systems are in serious jeopardy because of a lawsuit over stolen technology lodged by Waymo, and in the meantime, they’ve fallen far behind in the race to secure automotive partners despite having Volvo and Daimler in their corner. With the number of headaches Uber’s new CEO is faced with (including a likely ouster from London), it’s going to be hard for them to catch up.