GM's Self-Driving Unit Launches Ride-Hailing App

By Mike Colias Features Dow Jones Newswires

General Motors Co.'s autonomous-vehicle arm has hatched its own ride-hailing app for self-driving cars, a sign the Detroit auto giant could sidestep its partnership with Lyft Inc. and develop its own network of robotaxis.

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Cruise Automation, a tech startup acquired by GM last year, has begun testing an app-based service for its roughly 150 employees to be shuttled around Silicon Valley in self-driving cars. Dubbed "Cruise Anywhere," the service currently is exclusively for company employees and requires a "safety trainer" at the wheel, but it is being developed as a commercial product, the company said.

The move comes after an array of partnerships was forged between traditional auto companies and tech firms working on future transportation options, including ride-sharing and autonomous cars. GM invested $500 million in Lyft in early 2016 was part of what the companies called "a long-term strategic alliance to create an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles."

Kyle Vogt, the founder and chief executive of GM's Cruise operation, indicated Tuesday the auto maker may need to switch gears. "To get us to the future faster, we're prepared to go with one partner, many partners, or no partners at all," he said in a statement.

GM, the Cruise division and Lyft had planned to test autonomous Chevrolet Bolts with customers on public roads this year, The Wall Street Journal reported last year.

A spokeswoman for Lyft declined to comment on Cruise's ride-hailing app. Since attracting the GM investment, Lyft has signed separate technical-development pacts with Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo autonomous-vehicle arm and Boston-based self-driving startup Nutonomy Inc.

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Lyft is also working on its own autonomous-vehicle development. Most industry participants, including GM executives, have said autonomous vehicles will catch on first in commercial fleets, and then trickle into the general public.

GM CEO Mary Barra has played down Lyft's growing list of autonomous-driving partners, saying GM's pact with the San Francisco company is going well and was "never an exclusive arrangement."

"That's one of the things you find quite often in Silicon Valley with technology companies. We're working together in one space, we're competing in another," Ms. Barra told reporters in June. "I think we've worked through that."

GM also has teamed with Uber Technologies Inc., the nation's largest ride-hailing company, to provide vehicles to Uber drivers in some markets. A GM spokesman declined to say whether work between the two companies has evolved beyond that.

Waymo is testing autonomous minivans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles with families and commuters in the Phoenix area. Uber offers self-driving vehicle rides to customers in Pittsburgh and Tempe, Ariz.

The patchwork of partnerships that are emerging reflect the "frenemy" nature of collaboration between Silicon Valley companies and auto makers and suppliers on future automotive technology, IHS Automotive analyst Jeremy Carlson said. It has become common for companies to sync up with various rivals in the development of autonomous vehicles, an approach that could also spread to other emerging transportation businesses.

As auto makers work on autonomous technology, everyday consumers remain uneasy with turning over the wheel, according to various independent surveys. The GM spokesman said the Cruise employee testing will help the company gather data about rider behavior and acceptance of the technology.

Write to Mike Colias at Mike.Colias@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 08, 2017 17:07 ET (21:07 GMT)