Toyota buys Lyft’s standalone unit for $ 550 million

Lyft is selling its autonomous driving unit to Toyota for $ 550 million, another example of dashed hope among ridesharing groups hoping to build a robotaxi network.

The agreement expands Toyota’s efforts to go beyond simple car manufacturing to other “mobility services”.

Lyft President John Zimmer predicted in 2016 that driverless cars the majority of Lyft rides within five years ”, but the prediction was largely satisfactory. Zimmer also predicted that by 2025 “private car ownership will practically end in major US cities.”

In February of last year, Lyft donated more than 100,000 “Paid Autonomous Rides” – enough to claim it hosts “the largest public commercial autonomous driving platform in the United States” – but a safety driver was still sitting behind the wheel and Lyft struggled to pass to the next phase.

Lyft’s exit follows closely that of Uber, its American rival, which in December abandoned its internal 1,200-person effort to build a driverless car and paid rival Aurora $ 400 million to take over the business. Uber retains an equity stake.

Toyota said Monday it would pay Lyft $ 200 million upfront to take over the Autonomous Drive Unit, a group of 300 people called “Level 5” – an ambitious reference to full autonomy regardless of the weather or geography – and had agreed to pay an additional $ 350. m over five years.

The unit will be part of Toyota’s new Woven Planet division, which says it “is on a mission to make a happier planet.” . .[by]transforming the way people live, move and play with new innovations and investments in automated driving, robotics, smart cities and more ”.

Woven Planet is home to Toyota Guardian, which creates advanced driver assistance technology, and Toyota Chauffeur, which focuses on full range.

The Japanese group has been cautious about deploying its own autonomous driving technology. Earlier this month, it launched a Lexus with “Level 2” autonomous driving capabilities that includes features such as lane changing.

It had previously planned to unveil a ‘level 4’ mobility service van that allows completely driverless operations on predefined routes at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but this has been postponed until later this year due to the pandemic. .

Toyota has a minority stake in Aurora, having previously invested in Uber’s autonomous driving unit, and in February it announced that it would work with Aurora on the deployment of driverless cars.

James Kuffner, chief executive of Woven Planet, did not address any potential conflicts between acquiring Lyft’s business and its deal with Aurora. He also didn’t offer any predictions on when the technology might become mainstream.

But he said the acquisition “brings together a dream team” of engineers and scientists. “

For Lyft, a company open since June 2019, the deal cuts $ 100 million in annual operating expenses and is expected to “accelerate Lyft’s path” to a long-promised goal of achieving “adjusted profitability of the Ebitda, ”the company said.

Lyft still believes in a self-sustaining future, but its efforts will be shifted away from manufacturing the vehicle and toward deploying and scaling “third-party” technology on its network, said Logan Green, managing director.

“We look forward to continuing to partner with the best autonomous vehicle companies to bring this technology to market,” said Green.

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