General Motors' Lyft Deal Faces Inevitable Music

Could the Consumer Electronics Show be the biggest auto show of the year? In some ways, yes. It could definitely steal some thunder from the Detroit Auto Show. Automakers are making big announcements both at CES and with an eye to the timing of the event. Kia, for example, will announce a new program on Tuesday, probably about autonomous driving techs. Fiat Chrysler will reveal its fourth-generation Uconnect telematics system there, and show how it spotlights Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

Ford, meanwhile, banking on its SmartDeviceLink open-source interface for its Sync and AppLink telematics, says Toyota Corp. is using it, and several others, like Honda and Mazda, are looking at it. The idea, from Ford’s perspective, is that open-source is the way to go because it could be an industry standard, meaning different automakers can differentiate their telematics look/feel without forcing users to learn a different connection protocol, or use a different suite of apps.

Says the automaker, “By making SmartDeviceLink software available to the open-source community, Ford is providing the industry a way to maintain differentiated, brand-specific entertainment and connectivity systems that deliver on customer expectations for smartphone app integration — regardless of smartphone.”

But one of the more striking CES-proximity announcements, for its scope and potential to upend the industry, comes from General Motors, which seems to have figured out that you can’t fight fire with water. The automaker’s just-announced alliance with ride-share company Lyft for a network of on-demand autonomous vehicles in the U.S. involves a $500 million stake in Lyft that gives The General a seat on the company’s board. The fire, by the way, isn’t necessarily (just) ride-sharing companies like Uber, and the growth of the “own less” culture embraced by younger people. 

It is also that little white pod on whose odometer Google has been loading tens of thousands of test miles. The opportunity GM and Google see, and the danger that GM is trying to head off, is that Google gets its stake in the ground first at the confluence of autonomous cars and ride-sharing. Because whenever it happens, down goes new-car sales in urban markets. And, as Elon Musk pointed out, perhaps over-dramatically, cars that aren’t fully self-driving will be of no value, or will have “negative value,” to be precise. 

Dan Ammann, GM’s president, seems to get that. He said, in the announcement, that the deal speaks to mobility becoming “connected, seamless and autonomous” driving, or riding. GM says it will have on-demand autonomous vehicles in Lyft’s network, and that the partnership will “leverage GM’s deep knowledge of autonomous technology and Lyft’s capabilities in providing a broad choice of ride-sharing services.”

Next story loading loading..