Friendships Drive Uber and Lyft’s Race to Self-Driving Cars

Lyft has made it’s next leap forward in the ride-sharing economy – they are becoming self-driving, and they are doing it with the best in the business.

Everyone who has ever had an idea they believed in knows the feeling of needing friends more than they need you. (If you don’t believe it, look at Instagram and see all of the bloggers helping bloggers). It’s not balanced. But, it also doesn’t mean that the person with the idea doesn’t bring something of value to the table. And furthermore, it doesn’t mean that they can’t grow to usurp the market share in the industry. Lyft has long been the lesser ride sharing platform, and by lesser I mean less in-demand than Uber (and also I believed in Uber’s future through partnerships and still only use their ride-sharing platform). Nonetheless, that is of course in testament to dollars and cents – Lyft is valued below $10 Billion and Uber is valued at $68 Billion (or $50 Billion depending on which shareholders you ask).

One of my favorite innovative newsletter, The Hustle, talked about the Underdog, Lyft this in this morning round-up. Lyft has in many ways been far behind, but just because you’re behind, doesn’t mean you can’t catch up. It just means you may need your friends more than they need you right now. In Lyft’s greatest round of catch-up, they are striking into the autonomous car business – a future technology that will make car’s safer, but on the other side, has undergone a lot of setbacks during recent testing  – particularly Uber’s beta test in San Francisco and the more relevant news – Uber’s lawsuit with Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, over the self-driving technology.

This piece of news changes it all – for Lyft that is.  While the lawsuit continues, shade can still be thrown, and that’s exactly what Waymo, “the friend” is doing by partnering up with Lyft. It’s not because they’re such good friends. It’s because the big player didn’t play fair. Lyft is Uber’s arch nemesis. It’s another blow to Uber, and it’s another necessary partnership that is quite frankly keeping Lyft in the game.  Will this new investment in self-driving Lyft fleets be a good move for Waymo? And will this actually pay dividends for GM – the giant that’s been investing in Lyft all along when they needed it the most?

Lyft has a vision – a four year vision – that by 2021 self-driving Lyft cars will make up the “majority” or it’s network. And while that sounds noble, I think it’s also interchangeable. Autonomous cars are the future even if some may believe that the technology is better suited for trucks on highways than stop and go cars in cities. The technology is set, it’s being tested, and by 2025 self-driving cars will be built and sold by Ford. There are of course other players in this game including Daimler, Tesla, Volvo and Apple.

Uber and Lyft’s face-off is interesting. Uber drivers are Lyft drivers. They must know this. While the brand is remarkably different (and that does change some things like reputability and users and even the bottom line re: #DeleteUber campaign), maybe as long as the face is the same, the game isn’t going to change that much until there’s no people – there’s just a car waiting for you. The destination is clear: autonomous cars, but the vehicle to get there will be the real surprise.

What do you think about Lyft’s new friendship circle?

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