As more young people gravitate away from personal vehicle ownership, General Motors has heavily invested in this new reality.
The investment in Lyft – Uber‘s biggest competitor – is formidable, with $500 million earmarked to help expand Lyft’s reach and available services, and some of them help take Uber’s main competitor to its next evolutionary steps.
Those steps take Lyft further past its initial model of requesting empty seats in other people’s cars – certainly an example of the much-hyped “sharing economy” – to cars that drivers can rent to ferry passengers, with the eventual goal of deploying a fleet of autonomous cars.
So GM’s involvement essentially hooks in to the progress of this nascent niche. The carmaker says that “beginning immediately”, hubs will be created for drivers to pick up vehicles that are explicitly for Lyft driving.
Sounds convenient and straightforward for the drivers, but it also shows that the concept has grown past its sharing-economy roots. Picking up a car at a hub for fare generation isn’t sharing; in fact, it appears dangerously close to being a taxi service, and those optics may give cab companies extra leverage to amp up regulations for its upstart competitors.
Cab companies have a bigger problem with autonomous cars, as those self-navigating pods purport to eliminate altogether the profession of driving for fares. Boosting GM‘s efforts is its acquisition of Sidecar; while Sidecar never reached parity with Uber and Lyft, it was an innovator, and its technology and staffers will help stand up to Uber, which has raised more capital than any other startup in history.
Maven, on the other hand, will compete with car-sharing services like Zipcar. Again, Zipcar isn’t really part of the sharing economy, while companies like Getaround and Turo are, as they allow you to drive your neighbors’ cars for a fee. What Maven does is place 21 GM cars in Ann Arbor, with a focus on serving the faculty and students of the University of Michigan.
College areas in the US, Germany and China is just the first step; next, Maven will move into residential areas in Chicago and NYC. Interestingly, GM will open itself on WhatsApp to hear from initial Maven users as the service grows and matures.
There’s no escaping the new reality facing carmakers, which are being forced to move past the old business model of primarily selling private cars to individuals. To get its feet wet, Ford has been testing an app-hailed shuttle service for its employees.
But GM has asserted its commitment with these new ventures and partnerships, and it will be interesting to see how its competitors respond.