Lyft will begin running autonomous vehicles within its rideshare network before the end of 2021 through a partnership with Ford and Argo AI.
The three companies announced an agreement Wednesday morning that will place self-driving ride-hailing vehicles on Miami city streets later this year and on Austin, Texas, roadways in 2022.
“This collaboration marks the first time all the pieces of the autonomous vehicle puzzle have come together this way,” Lyft (NASDAQ: LYFT) co-founder and CEO Logan Green said in a statement. “Each company brings the scale, knowledge and capability in their area of expertise that is necessary to make autonomous ride-hailing a business reality.”
The agreement calls for Argo and Ford (NYSE: F) to deploy self-driving cars with safety drivers on the Lyft network. Lyft users in the operational areas of the vehicles will be able to choose a Ford self-driving vehicle if available. The initial deployments will be used to work through operational issues as the three companies work to finalize an agreement that will place more than 1,000 autonomous vehicles into Lyft’s network over the next five years.
“This collaboration is special because we’re executing on a shared vision for improving the safety, access to and affordability of transportation in our cities,” said Bryan Salesky, founder and CEO of Argo AI. “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.”
Argo AI designs self-driving technology and has been testing its technology in Washington, Miami and Austin. The company is based in Pittsburgh.
A Lyft spokesperson told Modern Shipper that Ford will own the vehicles and Argo will supply the drivers.
“Argo and Ford are currently piloting, mapping and preparing for commercial operations of autonomous vehicles in more cities than any other AV collaboration, and this new agreement is a crucial step toward full commercial operations – the addition of Lyft’s world-class transportation network,” said Scott Griffith, CEO of Ford’s Autonomous Vehicles & Mobility Businesses. “These three companies share a belief that autonomous vehicles will be a key enabler for a cleaner, safer and more efficient urban mobility landscape. This is the beginning of an important relationship between three dynamic companies ultimately aiming to deliver a trusted, high-quality experience for riders in a multicity large-scale operation over time.”
The companies will collaborate on data sharing, including market and safety data, to define where self-driving technology makes the most sense for the consumer. Additionally, Argo will use anonymized service and fleet data from Lyft to help it overcome challenges that it said other autonomous vehicle companies face when building a sustainable business.
As part of the deal, Lyft will receive 2.5% of the common equity of Argo AI as part of a licensing and data access agreement.
On its Q1 2021 earnings call, Green previewed how Lyft saw its future, and it included a heavy emphasis on transportation-as-a-service with a focus on autonomous vehicles.
“We believe the future of transportation is as-a-service, and we are the only company in North America that has a seamless multimodal transportation platform that can replace car ownership,” he said. “We expect autonomous vehicles to accelerate this transition. They will transform the ridesharing industry and their business.”
Green went on to say that he believed AVs would first be deployed on rideshare networks.
“Given the expected vehicle cost, one key issue will be getting first-wave vehicles to break even, which will depend on utilization,” he said. “This will be tricky because these vehicles will only be able to serve a subset of trips due to likely domain and weather restrictions. It’ll take time for AV technology to advance to the point where AVs are able to accommodate every ride under every condition.”
Lyft has already conducted more than 100,000 paid AV rides since 2018, Green previously said. The company has been working with Motional, an Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture, on an AV project, and it expects to deploy fully autonomous Motional vehicles in several cities by 2023.
The Lyft spokesperson said the agreement with Ford and Argo will not change the work with Motional, and Lyft still expects to have Motional’s driverless Hyundai vehicles operating in at least two cities with no driver in 2023.