Waymo escalates fight with Uber by partnering with Lyft

Detroit News wire services

Alphabet Inc. is working with Lyft Inc. on a plan to test autonomous cars on the road, escalating a fight with Uber Technologies Inc. by partnering with its main rival in the U.S. The announcement came as a judge ordered Uber not to use Waymo’s self-driving technology.

Waymo, an automotive business owned by Google’s parent company, is holding public trials on its own using Chrysler minivans equipped with its technology in Phoenix. Uber is also testing autonomous cars there and in other U.S. cities.

“Lyft’s vision and commitment to improving the way cities move will help Waymo’s self-driving technology reach more people, in more places,” Waymo wrote in an emailed statement.

The arrangement with Lyft suggests Alphabet is unlikely to rekindle its relationship with Uber. Alphabet’s venture capital arm counts Uber as its largest investment, but tensions rose after Alphabet showed interest in developing a competing ride-hailing service. David Drummond, Alphabet’s chief legal officer, stepped down from Uber’s board last year.

A federal judge on Monday ordered Uber not to use technology that a key executive downloaded before he left Waymo, the autonomous car company that was spun off from Google. But he refused to order a halt to Uber’s self-driving program, as requested by Waymo.

Judge William Alsup in San Francisco says in the ruling that Waymo has shown “compelling evidence” that a former star engineer named Anthony Levandowski downloaded thousands of confidential files before leaving Waymo. The judge also says evidence shows that before he left Waymo, Levandowski and Uber planned for Uber to acquire a company formed by Levandowski.

Waymo sued Uber in February alleging that the ride-hailing company is using stolen self-driving technology to build its own fleet of autonomous cars. Monday’s ruling prevents Uber from using the technology on a laser navigational tool called Lidar that robotic cars use to see what’s around them.

Lyft, the second-largest U.S. ride-hailing provider, is also working on autonomous technology with General Motors Co., which is an investor in the startup. In early 2016, GM invested $500 million into Lyft for a 9 percent stake in the ride-hailing company. The companies are working together to introduce autonomous Chevrolet Bolt EVs into a ride-hailing pilot program.

A GM spokesman said Monday that the Waymo-Lyft partnership has no impact on GM’s relationship and ongoing projects with Lyft. GM’s partnership with Lyft is non-exclusive.

The partnership with Waymo was reported earlier Sunday by the New York Times.

“Waymo holds today’s best self-driving technology, and collaborating with them will accelerate our shared vision of improving lives with the world’s best transportation,” Lyft wrote in an emailed statement.

To expand testing, Waymo may need to secure more vehicles. It has about 600 Chrysler Pacificas and has held talks with Honda Motor Co. to get its autonomous technology into the Japanese automaker’s cars.

Bloomberg News, Associated Press and Detroit News staff writer Melissa Burden contributed.