Since 2009 Google (now Alphabet) has spent over $1 billion on self driving technology. For a long time, it seemed the company was about to begin producing its terminally cute Google car, a fully autonomous 2 passenger electric vehicle with no steering wheel and no pedals.
But that plan has been cancelled. Google became Alphabet and the self driving car division became Waymo. Perhaps the powers that be at Alphabet took note of the difficulties Tesla encountered while getting its Model S and Model X cars into production.
For whatever reason, Waymo is now interested in forming partnerships with existing automakers who will incorporate its autonomous driving technology into their cars. Chrysler has converted 100 Chrysler Pacific Hybrid minivans to operate on Waymo self driving systems.
$1 Billion Investment In Lyft
Now comes word that Waymo may be about to invest $1 billion in ride hailing service Lyft, according to a September 14 report by Axios. The timing of the move is interesting. Lyft is currently #2 in the ride hailing industry but quite far behind industry leader Uber.
But it has been a tough year for Uber. Under the leadership of its man-child founder, Travis Kalanick, Uber has reaped a whirlwind of negative publicity for its über-aggressive (pun intended) policies that track customers digitally long after a ride has ended, interfere with government attempts to regulate the company, and promote a misogynistic culture within the company.
Kalanick has been marginalized by the board of directors and the company is now headed by an actual adult, Dara Khosrowshahi, who previously headed travel booking company Expedia. But it is embroiled in a hotly contested lawsuit with Waymo, in which it is accused of hiring a former Waymo executive who downloaded reams of proprietary information before departing to start a self driving startup for heavy trucks called Otto.
Uber quickly acquired Otto and Waymo alleges the purchase was nothing but a thinly disguised attempt to gain access to the purloined information. Just last week, the judge in the trial sided with Waymo and ordered Uber to turn over its entire file covering the corporate due diligence it conducted as part of its decision to purchase Otto. The ruling came after the judge issued a tongue lashing to Uber’s attorneys, saying they appear to have engaged in a deliberate attempt to mislead the court, according to CNBC.
Google Gives Lyft A Lift
A large investment in Lyft would mark quite a change of course for Google, which made a major investment in Uber when the ride hailing service was just getting off the ground. The new investment strategy in Uber’s chief rival could give Lyft the impetus it needs to begin challenging Uber in the US and internationally. And if nothing else, it gives a glimpse into how much money major corporations like Google think there is to be made in ride hailing and ride sharing services in the future.
Interestingly enough, while Google’s Waymo division is working closely with Chrysler, General Motors has also made a major investment in Lyft and outfitted a small fleet of Chevy Bolt electric cars to test its autonomous driving technology. Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler, makes no secret of the fact that he would love to find a buyer for the company. Could the self driving Chrysler Pacificas and Chevy Bolts in Lyft’s fleet be a sign of things to come? Stay tuned.