The news that 10 Waymo self-driving vehicle prototypes will be made available to customers of Lyft in suburban Phoenix “in the next few months” likely will get blown out of proportion as a big win for Lyft. On its face, it shows how Lyft could extract a rent from vehicle developers such as Waymo, Aptiv, and others. It’s actually more meaningful from a Waymo point of view—an admission that the leading self-driving vehicle developers likely will need to tap into customers of ride hailing networks like Lyft and Uber to generate meaningful revenue in the future, rather than rely on their own robotaxi apps. Waymo currently operates its own standalone app, but it’s only available to several hundred customers.
Given that self-driving car prototypes won’t be able to handle most scenarios on their own for a long time, it makes sense that they be made available through Lyft or Uber so that customers who need transportation on a route that prototypes can handle will be matched with those vehicles. However, Waymo’s vehicles have human “safety drivers” in them and are nowhere near ready to be driverless—and even with human overseers, there have been plenty of problems recently, as The Information has reported in detail. So Lyft shareholders shouldn’t get too excited.