In addition to ride-hailing, the self-driving Ford Escapes also will be used to deliver groceries and other small items in partnerships with other companies Salesky didn’t identify.
The detailed market data Lyft is providing will help accelerate the rollout, Salesky said.
“It helps us figure out where to put those vehicles,” Salesky said. “You really understand what the movement patterns are in cities to make sure we’re mapping and testing in the right areas. And the safety data will help us understand human driving performance.”
Lyft sees the deal as pulling together all the players necessary to create an autonomous taxi business.
“This collaboration marks the first time all the pieces of the autonomous vehicle puzzle have come together,“ Lyft CEO Logan Green said in a statement. “Each company brings the scale, knowledge and capability in their area of expertise that is necessary to make autonomous ride-hailing a business reality.”
Ford has had a partnership with Lyft since 2017, though the ride-hailing company also received a $500 million investment from GM in 2016. Kelman said GM no longer has representation on Lyft’s board and the automaker isn’t presently pursuing a similar autonomous taxi deal with Lyft.
GM liquidated its stake in Lyft during the first half of 2020, according to a disclosure in its annual report.
The deployment is slightly earlier than expected. Ford previously said the debut was being pushed back to 2022 due to pandemic-related delays.
“This new agreement is a crucial step toward full commercial operations,” Scott Griffith, CEO of Ford’s autonomous vehicles and mobility unit, said in a statement, citing Lyft’s “world-class transportation network.” He said it’s the start of “an important relationship between three dynamic companies.”
As Argo ramps up to full commercialization, it is planning to go public as early as this year and is separately doing a private round of fundraising this summer. Argo was founded in 2016 by Salesky, who helped start the Google self-driving car project that became Waymo, and Peter Rander, who previously led Uber Technologies Inc.’s autonomous unit.
Salesky recognizes that convincing wary commuters to try self-driving cars is one of the biggest challenges, but he believes they will come to realize it is actually safer.
“We’ve all had human drivers that we’d prefer not to ever ride with again,” Salesky said. “We think after you experience it, you’ll really enjoy it and want to ride with ours.”
Automotive News reporter Hannah Lutz contributed to this report.