GM buys assets of ride-hailing company Sidecar

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. is growing its expertise in the ride-hailing/sharing trend.

The automaker has hired employees and bought the assets of Sidecar Technologies Inc., a ride-hailing company that ceased operations in December.

GM, according to a company statement, has “attracted Sidecar employees to be integrated into the GM urban mobility team, and acquired certain related assets, for work on our global mobility programs.”

Vijay Iyer, a GM spokesman, declined to comment on details of the deal, including the number of employees hired, assets bought and cost. He said the company is “in process” of hiring the Sidecar employees for the company’s urban mobility team.

“It’s good to see that there’s value in what we’re working on, and people from the industry are seeing that,” he said, adding the new employees will bring GM’s core team for urban mobility to about 40 people.

Bloomberg, which first reported the acquisition, said GM is hiring employees from the San Francisco-based business, including co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jahan Khanna.

A Sidecar spokeswoman on Wednesday said in an email that the company signed an agreement with GM in December and Sidecar stopped its ride and delivery operations to focus on the deal. The company declined to disclose the terms of the transaction, but did say it includes transferring a license to Sidecar’s patents, existing technology and code — and that GM is hiring 22 of its employees.

In a Wednesday post on Medium, Sidecar Co-Founder and CEO Sunil Paul said the company was forced to close and sell because it was not able to compete with Uber Technologies Inc.

“With the acquisition of Sidecar assets, GM gains the team and technology to accelerate their mobility plans and grow their new mobility offering into a world-class transportation service,” he wrote.

Sidecar shut down at the end of 2015 after being unable to keep up with the likes of Lyft Inc. and Uber . — the main United States players in ride-hailing. Toward the end of its operations, the company specialized in local delivery services.

Ride-hailing essentially provides consumers with their own personnel driver. Using the companies’ smartphone apps, riders can summon a car, see how far away it is and check out a driver’s reviews. There is no need to exchange money, as fees are automatically charged to a rider’s credit card.

The Sidecar deal comes about two weeks after GM announced a $500 million investment in Lyft as part of a $1 billion round of fund-raising for the ride-hailing company.

The investment included GM President Dan Ammann receiving a seat on Lyft’s board as well as making the automaker a preferred vehicle provider.

Iyer said the Sidecar deal is “not connected” to the automaker’s investment in Lyft.

In November, GM filed an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for “Maven.” It described Maven as “software for connecting vehicle drivers and passengers and for coordinating transportation services; software for use in planning, monitoring and controlling urban transportation,” along with “business services relating to transportation of goods and services; administration of a customer loyalty program” and “rental of land motor vehicles, bicycles and motorized bicycles, scooters and cycles, land vehicle sharing services, transportation services for passengers and freight.”

Bloomberg reported first on the filing. GM did not comment.

GM’s growing urban mobility unit started within the company about two years ago, Mike Ableson, GM’s vice president of strategy and global portfolio planning, said earlier this month. The group has been focused on the company’s urban mobility plans including car sharing work it has done in New York City, alternative transportation models and the recently announced $500 million investment into Lyft.

“It’s been a group with a charter of really going out and looking for new opportunities in some of these new ownership and sharing models,” he said.

GM North America President Alan Batey told reporters at the Detroit auto show last week that officials have been “looking at the mobility space” for some time.

“We believe our core business will remain very, very strong,” he said. “But there is definitely a mobility opportunity. Rather than being a supplier of just vehicles into that mobility solution, we wanted to play a much more active role.”

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Staff Writer Melissa Burden contributed.