Lyft, GM start short-term car rental program, aim for self-driving car network

Next stop, an autonomous vehicle ride-sharing network

Lyft GM ride sharing autonomous

General Motors today announced the launch of a short-term vehicle rental program exclusive to the Lyft ride-sharing service.

The Express Drive rental program will make cars available to Lyft drivers starting at $99, a price that includes insurance and vehicle maintenance.

GM is also developing autonomous vehicles and Lyft has developed software to automate ride matching, routing and payments. Together, the companies plan to develop an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles.

The new program comes just two months after GM struck a strategic partnership with Lyft to develop autonomous vehicles and invested $500 million as part of Lyft's $1 billion Series F funding round.

Along with the alliance with Lyft, GM over the past two months also formed Maven -- its personal mobility brand for car-sharing fleets in many U.S. cities.

"We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous," GM president Dan Ammann said in a statement. "With GM and Lyft working together, we believe we can successfully implement this vision more rapidly."

GM Maven Photo by John F. Martin for General Motors

Maven, GM's personal mobility brand for car-sharing, allows customers to use  smartphone and keyless integration with the vehicle. Maven customers use the app to search for and reserve a vehicle by location or car type and unlock the vehicle. The app also enables remote functions such as starting, heating or cooling and more.

More than 400 million people will rely on robotic car sharing by 2030, according to a new report by ABI Research.

Robotic cars, like Google's in-house pod car, are completely autonomous. Google's pod car doesn't even have a steering wheel; it uses technology such as exterior cameras to see lanes and LIDAR, a type of radar, which uses lasers to illuminate objects around the car.

Last week, GM announced that it's acquiring Cruise Automation for that firm's deep software talent and rapid development capability -- a move designed to further accelerate GM's development of autonomous vehicle technology.

"This acquisition announcement clearly shows that GM is serious about developing the technology and controlling its own path to self-driving and driverless vehicles," said Egil Juliussen, research director for IHS Automotive.

While GM did not disclose the financial details of the Cruise acquisition, reports estimated the purchase to be in the $1 billion range.

The new Express Drive begins later this month in Chicago and will soon roll out to additional cities, including Boston, Washington D.C., Baltimore and others.

With Express Drive, drivers who complete 65 rides a week in Chicago will be able to access a vehicle at no weekly rental cost. In addition to affordability, Express Drive offers flexible terms for drivers who can rent cars on a weekly basis for up to eight weeks at a time.

GM said there's a "definite need for access to high-quality GM cars for Lyft.

"In Chicago alone, there were 60,000 people who applied to drive on the Lyft platform, but did not have a car that qualified," Lyft said in a statement. "Express Drive directly addresses this need for millions of Americans who do not have access to a qualifying vehicle."

In Chicago, Express Drive will provide access to Chevrolet Equinox crossovers equipped with OnStar, additional connectivity features as well as ample cargo space and flexible seating for up to five, according to Lyft.

"Launching Express Drive is another way we treat drivers better, in addition to Power Driver Bonus, tips and same day payouts," Lyft president and co-founder John Zimmer said in a statement. "We're making sure everyone who wants to be a Lyft driver can be, by providing ultimate flexibility at incredible rates."

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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