Published on May 5, 2016
General Motors and Lyft will test a fleet of autonomous cars that may include the Chevrolet Bolt EV within a year in a step toward eliminating the major cost of operating ride-sharing fleets, the human driver.
The plan is still a work in progress, according to a Lyft executive, as first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The two companies have not chosen the city, nor have they settled on which GM vehicles would be used in the pilot program.
But GM officials have talked about how the Bolt was designed, particularly its electronic architecture, so that it could be a test bed for full, or Level 4, autonomy.
The location of the testing is still being discussed, according to a Lyft source. But it could incorporate some of the technology GM is trying to purchase in its acquisition of Cruise Automation, a three-year-old San Francisco startup for which GM has offered about $1 billion.
In January, GM announced it was investing $500 million in Lyft, the second largest ride-sharing service in the U.S. after Uber.
In March, the two companies launched a program in Chicago that will allow current Lyft drivers to rent GM cars. The pilot program, called Express Drive, will offer GM vehicles to Lyft drivers for $99 a week for up to eight weeks. The $99 will be waived to Lyft drivers in Chicago who log 65 or more rides per week.
Lyft and Maven, GM's new car-sharing venture, will share the cost of insurance and maintenance. Initially, the vehicles will be Chevrolet Equinox crossovers equipped with OnStar, GM's connectivity system.
Uber also has invested heavily in the robotics and artificial intelligence needed to take full control of a vehicle out of a driver's hands. In March, the German publication Manager Magazin reported that Uber has placed an order for at least 100,000 Mercedes S-Class cars, citing sources at both companies. Neither company has confirmed that report.
Google has been testing its self-driving cars on public roads in and around its Mountain View, Calif., headquarters for several years.
GM has not publicly acknowledged whether it has tested fully autonomous cars on public roads.
One of the biggest challenges for the GM-Lyft plan will be finding a city and state where regulations will permit operating vehicles without a driver, although Lyft officials said the initial tests will be done with human drivers who will take control if they are needed.
Taggart Matthiesen, Lyft self-driving technology director, said both Lyft and GM will want to validate the Cruise Automation system before taking it on public roads.
GM has said it wants to close the Cruise Automation acquisition by the end of June, but that could be delayed by competing lawsuits between Cruise's CEO and co-founder Kyle Vogt and a former associate, Jeremy Guillory, who claims he is entitled to a significant percentage of the acquisition price.