Lyft and Magna Partner to Make Self-Driving Cars for Everyone
In the increasingly fierce—if not entirely tangible—fight for the exploding self-driving car market, Lyft stands out for its free love vibes. The company encourages anyone and everyone with robo-car tech to deploy its vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network. In a business that could be worth trillions before long, Lyft wants to be the middleman for the everyman, the platform that will connect cars to riders—and take its slice of the money, of course. So far, Ford, Waymo, Jaguar Land Rover, and Aptiv (a self-driving spinoff from supplier Delphi) have thrown their keys in the bowl.
At the same time, Lyft announced last July it was developing its own autonomous driving technology, hiring hundreds of engineers to fill a building in Palo Alto. “It’s too strategic an area for us to not be a player,” Luc Vincent, the project’s technical lead, told WIRED at the time.
Now, Lyft is adding some muscle to that latter effort by partnering with auto industry supplier Magna. You’ve likely never heard of the Canadian corporation, but it builds more car components—everything from seats to active safety systems like lane departure warnings—than anybody in North America. Under this new deal, it and Lyft will together build a self-driving system that any automaker will be able to buy and stick in its vehicles. Hardware, software, sensors, the whole shebang.
For the big supplier, joining with Lyft gives it a stronger sales pitch. Customers don’t just get a self-driving system, they get access to the platform that lets them deploy it for profit (revenue, anyway). Lyft is also starting to incentivize its drivers to stick cameras on their cars, so its software engineers can gather invaluable data—piles of the stuff—about what a robo-ride would have to deal with in the real world. And, under this deal, Magna can sell the system in whatever form it likes, so it could water it down a bit and offer it as a driver assistance feature.
For Lyft, Magna is more than a one-night stand. It offers the automotive design, testing, and manufacturing skills that Lyft, like so many tech- and operations-focused players in this nascent field, lacks. Even better, Magna develops systems that it customizes for use by just about any automaker, making sure its tech plays nice with the rest of the very complex environment that is the 21st century automobile. That’s key, because Lyft is developing this tech not just for its own use, but to bring even more partners into its arms. Magna could be Lyft’s ticket to that middleman ubiquity, another way to play as big a role in great new technology as possible by making a product many automakers can use.
“We want them all to have their cars on Lyft,” says Raj Kapoor, the company’s chief strategy officer. Lyft may be a lover—but in this new world of transportation, that makes it a fighter, too.