27 April, 2021

Toyota buys Lyft’s autonomous-driving division

Woven Planet, a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corporation (Toyota), has purchased the self-driving division of mobility provider Lyft.

The deal brings leading scientists and software engineers from Lyft’s Level 5 and Woven Planet, together with researchers from the Toyota Research Institute (TRI). The 1,200-strong team will represent a talented group in the field of autonomous mobility.

The acquisition represents Toyota’s continued move into the field of mobility. It is also another example of car-sharing platforms turning away from autonomous technology, following Uber’s sale of its self-driving division to Aurora in December.

Difficult field

Autonomy is a challenge for the automotive industry. At one point, it looked set to become a disruptive technology, removing the need for traditional vehicle ownership. However, Lyft’s decision to sell Level 5 to Toyota highlights the power shift back towards carmakers.

The car-sharing industry was struggling even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In December 2019, BMW and Daimler’s joint business Share Now announced it would pull out of several large markets. With the pandemic impacting journeys, and perceptions of public transport, companies dedicated to the market may be unable to invest the large sums needed to develop autonomous technology.

Lyft co-founder John Zimmer said in 2016 that Lyft’s autonomous fleet would account for the majority of its total rides within five years. By 2025, he added, private-car ownership would ‘all but end’ in major US cities.

That trend has not materialised. Together with the pandemic, the automotive industry has needed to shift quickly to electrification, and the development of fully-autonomous technology has suffered as a result. Therefore, Toyota’s deal to take on Lyft’s autonomous division will help both companies continue advancement in their respective fields.

Done deal

Toyota has stated that the purchase of Level 5 will bring together talent, technology and an international footprint. Once the acquisition is complete, Woven Planet will have an expanded footprint beyond its Tokyo headquarters, with offices and engineering teams in London and California.

In addition to the acquisition of Level 5, the two companies have signed commercial agreements for utilisation of the Lyft system and fleet data to accelerate the safety and commercialisation of the automated-driving technology that Woven Planet will develop.

Lyft will receive approximately $550 million (€455 million) in cash, with $200 million paid upfront, subject to certain closing adjustments. Toyota will also make $350 million of payments over a five-year period.

Future of mobility

Woven Planet is aiming to develop secure, connected-mobility solutions as part of TRI. Established in January, the business is looking to transform how people see mobility through innovations and investment in automated driving, robotics, smart cities and more.

‘This acquisition advances our mission to develop the safest mobility in the world at scale,’ commented James Kuffner, CEO, Woven Planet. ‘The Woven Planet team, alongside the team of researchers at TRI, have already established a centre of excellence for software development and technology in the Toyota Group.’

‘Bringing Level 5's world-class engineers and experts into the fold, as well as additional technology resources, will allow us to have even greater speed and impact. This deal will be key in weaving together the people, resources, and infrastructure that will help us to transform the world we live in through mobility technologies that can bring about a happier, safer future for us all,’ he added.