Tata's JLR invests in Uber rival Lyft for driverless cars

A Jaguar Land Rover logo is seen on the building inside the Chery Jaguar Land Rover plant in Changshu
Tata Motors-owned British luxury automobile maker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has invested $25 million (mn) in Lyft, a US ride-hailing company. The idea is a partnership to include the development and testing of autonomous cars.

Lyft is also Uber’s chief US rival. The investment was done through InMotion Ventures, venture capital arm of JLR. The money came from a $600-mn funding round which the ride-hailing entity had closed in April, at a valuation of $7.5 billion. 

InMotion has also backed Detroit-based enterprise car-pooling service SPLT, a collaborator with Lyft.

InMotion said its move would help Lyft expand by supplying its drivers with JLR vehicles. The more important part, it stated, was its plan to use the partnership to further the development and testing of its mobility services, including autonomous vehicles.

“Personal mobility and smart transportation is evolving and this new collaborative venture will provide a real-world platform in helping us develop our connected and autonomous services,” said Sebastian Peck, managing director.

Last month, Lyft had said it was partnering Google’s self-driving vehicle spinoff, Waymo, to work on developing of autonomous car technologies. This comes when larger rival Uber is in the midst of a crisis that could see founder Travis Kalanick taking a temporary leave of absence.

One of Uber’s biggest headaches at present is a suit filed by Waymo which accuses Anthony Levandowski, one of its former employees who founded self-driving truck start-up Otto, of stealing its Intellectual Property (IP). Otto was bought by Uber in August last year and while it had recently dismissed Levandowski, it is being investigated for fraud in this connection.

InMotion’s investment in Lyft also gives Tata group an indirect shareholding in the ride-hailing company, which it already has in Uber. In 2015, Uber received between $75 mn and $100 mn  from the Tata Opportunities Fund. Further, Tata Group's chairman-emeritus, Ratan Tata, is a known backer of Indian ride hailing start-up Ola, in his personal capacity.

Tata Elxsi, the Group’s design and engineering company, has also built its own autonomous driving middleware. This, it recently said, was being used by one of the top five global car makers to speed the development of their own self-driving vehicles. Tata Elxsi also works with JLR on development of autonomous vehicles, one of its major development centres being located at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. 

JLR isn’t the first automobile maker to back Lyft. In January last year, America's General Motors had invested $500 mn in Lyft and also said it would work with the latter to create an on-demand network of self-driving cars. And, Ford said it would build a fleet of driverless cars for both Uber and Lyft by 2021.

A driver with the ride-sharing service Lyft waits for a customer on a street in Santa Monica, California, in a file photo. Lyft allows customers to book rides from a network of screened drivers, who pull up in cars with fluffy pink moustaches attache

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