GM distancing from Lyft as it readies Cruise AV launch

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

Detroit – General Motors Co. is preparing for a future driven by ride-sharing and autonomous vehicles, but CEO Mary Barra again distanced the automaker from ride-sharing company Lyft Inc. at the company's annual meeting Tuesday.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra speaks to the news media before the automobile maker's annual meeting of shareholders at GM world headquarters June 12, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan.

"We still have a financial investment in Lyft. I have a lot of respect for John Zimmer and Logan Green who are the founders of Lyft," Barra said. "Right now, though, we have no active projects underway."

Her confirmation that GM and Lyft are not actively working together on a new project comes a week after GM President Dan Ammann stepped down from Lyft's board. Maggie Wilderotter, a former telecommunications executive who sits on Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.’s board with Ammann, will fill his seat.

GM invested $500 million in Lyft in 2016.

The Detroit automaker is pushing toward a commercial launch of its driverless Cruise AV next year, with a ride-hailing service in a yet-to-be-named U.S. city. That effort took a leap forward at the end of last month with a landmark investment from Japan's SoftBank into its GM Cruise autonomous operation. It's the latest step forward in a movement toward GM's promised commercial launch of a driverless car without a steering wheel or pedals slated for next year. 

Barra said GM is coming off of a "transformative" year in 2017 that included steps to prepare for an eventual shift in the automotive industry to electric and autonomous vehicles.

"I think it’s one of the most exciting times in my career in the auto industry where we really have a strong core business and we’re in a transformative era," Barra said. 

The company also did some global reorganization in 2017 when it left the European market, selling its Opel-Vauxhall business to PSA Groupe in France. The Detroit automaker has also pulled back in Russia and India in the past three years. 

At the start of this year, the company renegotiated its agreement with its South Korean labor union that is expected to generate between $400 million and $500 million in annual cost-savings when coupled with a planned closure of its Gunsan plant next month.

GM faces new global challenges in the coming year as the Trump administration looks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, postures on trade with China and looks to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. 

"There’s a lot of moving pieces on trade and the auto industry is exceptionally complex," Barra said. 

The company has continued to share its input with the Trump administration through these negotiations, Barra said, and GM is still taking a wait-and-see stance on the final impacts.

GM is seeing cost increase related to steel and aluminum tariffs, she said, but said the company is still "working hard to understand those impacts (and) working to offset to the extent that we can."

"I really think it’s early days," she said.

Twitter: @noranaughton