In an “industry-first collaboration,” Ford will launch a program with ride-sharing service Lyft to commercialize autonomous vehicles “at scale.” But, like other early-stage self-driving ride-shares, there will still be a person behind the wheel of these driverless cars.
The partners plan to begin rolling out modified Ford products, including the Escape SUV, putting them into use before the end of the year in Miami. Other markets, including Austin will soon follow. Ford and Lyft expect to have 1,000 of the autonomous vehicles in use within the next five years.
For the time being, the vehicles will retain a “safety driver” behind the wheel, ready to take over in an emergency. Ford officials declined to say if or when they would be able to go eliminate those backup operators.
“All the Pieces Have Come Together”
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“This collaboration marks the first time all the pieces of the autonomous vehicle puzzle have come together this way,“ Lyft co-founder and CEO Logan Green said in a statement. The partnership also includes Argo AI, an autonomous-vehicle startup that has the backing of Ford and Volkswagen.
Rival General Motors, plans to begin testing fully driverless vehicles in California this year through its autonomous subsidiary Cruise LLC. But state regulators so far have not allowed Cruise to draw paying customers.
In Lyft’s case, it will let its users choose whether they want to ride in an autonomous (albeit with safety driver) vehicle.
Competion from Uber, Cruise and Waymo
Like Lyft’s rival, Uber, Lyft wants to take drivers out of its equation, a strategy the two companies believe will help lower costs, increase usage and dig them out of the red after years of heavy losses. But they face serious competition from both Cruise and Waymo, the latter a spin-off of Google. Both Cruise and Waymo are looking to use fully driverless vehicles in their own ride-share services.
Lyft previously ran its own autonomous development program. It sold that unit off to Toyota in April for $550 million. It is now focusing on outside partners, starting with Ford and Pittsburgh-based Argo AI, the company that developed the autonomous technology that will be used in the Lyft vehicles
“Beyond the link that Lyft provides to the customer, we’ll be able to work together to define where an autonomous service will benefit communities the most and ensure we’re deploying the technology safely,” said Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo.
Ford is a primary investor in Argo. Volkswagen is another key investor and plans to deploy autonomous prototypes in Europe. Argo is expected to stage an initial public offering later this year or sometime in 2022, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal automotive analyst with Guidehouse Insights.