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General Motors invests $500M in Lyft, forms partnership

Dee-Ann Durbin
Associated Press

Detroit — General Motors Co. and ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. are forming an unprecedented partnership that could help them beat their rivals to the self-driving future.

Lyft said Monday that GM invested $500 million in the company as part of a $1 billion round of fund-raising.

GM gets a seat on Lyft’s board and access to the three-year-old company’s software, which matches riders with drivers and automates payments. It also becomes a preferred vehicle provider, with the chance to get many more people behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac.

San Francisco-based Lyft gets the expertise of a 108-year-old automaker with decades of experience in making connected and autonomous vehicles. Detroit-based GM also has an enviable global reach; it sells almost 10 million cars each year in more than 100 countries. Lyft operates in 190 U.S. cities, although it recently formed partnerships with ride-sharing services in China and India.

Together, the companies plan to open a network of U.S. hubs where Lyft drivers can rent GM vehicles. GM spokesman Vijay Iyer said he could not reveal the hubs yet, but the company hopes to share the first within the next few weeks.

The hubs could expand Lyft’s business by giving people who don’t own cars a way to drive and earn money through Lyft. It will also give GM a leg up on competitors like Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co., who are developing their own ride-sharing services.

Longer term, GM and Lyft will work together to develop a fleet of autonomous vehicles that city dwellers could summon using Lyft’s mobile app. Iyer said no timeline has been established for developing the autonomous vehicles. Partnering with GM could give Lyft a boost over its arch-rival, Uber Technologies Inc., which is working on its own driverless cars.

Lyft Co-Founder and President John Zimmer and GM President Dan Ammann say the two companies began serious discussions about three months ago. Both see big changes coming in the traditional model of car ownership, and they had similar ideas about how to address it.

“It felt very natural very quickly,” Zimmer said.

Ammann said the resulting partnership is unlike any other in the auto and tech industries.

“Do we want to deploy the resources and people to do everything ourselves, or get there faster by working in partnership?” Ammann said. “We see a really compelling, complimentary set of capabilities.”

Following its latest round of fund-raising — which also included a $100 million investment from Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Holding Co. — privately-held Lyft set its value at $5.5 billion. The company expects revenue of around $1 billion this year. By comparison, GM is valued at $53 billion and earned $153 billion in revenue in 2014.

But neither company can afford to rest. Uber’s value could soon surpass GM’s, and newcomers like Apple and Google are also eager to disrupt the traditional auto industry.

“We see the world of mobility changing more in the next five years than it has in the last 50,” Ammann said.

GM later this year plans to test a fleet of autonomous 2017 Chevrolet Volts plug-in hybrids at its GM Warren Tech Center campus in part to quicken deployment of such vehicles. Employees there will be able to hop into one of the vehicles and be shuttled around the campus. And, GM plans to introduce its Super Cruise advanced driver-assist technology on the 2017 Cadillac CT6. The technology will allow a driver to take his or her hands off the steering wheel and foot off the brake and accelerator while driving on a highway.

The automaker, aiming to be a disruptor in the changing auto industry, also has launched a car-sharing program with an apartment community in New York City and plans another citywide car-sharing program in another U.S. city early this year.

Citi Research analyst Itay Michaeli called the announcement a “clear positive for GM” that could help boost the value of GM stock in the future.

GM’s stock was down about 3 percent around 12:20 p.m. Monday.

Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Burden contributed.