Weekly Brief: Lyft and Grab invest billions to take Uber down

Uber’s rivals are smelling blood in the water and injecting fresh billions to seize the momentum. Andrew Tolve reports.

Talk about kicking a man when he’s down. With Uber faltering, Lyft announced a $1.7Bn (£1.3Bn) funding round led by none other than Alphabet. Lyft plans to use the money to grow internationally, starting in London, where Uber just got the boot for violating a host of local regulations although Uber is appealing is ban. Lyft will also likely leverage the injection of capital to discount the price of rides, thus further eating into Uber’s market share in the US.

The fact that Alphabet led the round is evidence of just how much its relationship with Uber has degenerated. Alphabet remains one of Uber’s largest investors (it led a $258M funding round back in 2013) yet the two companies are locked in a legal battle, with Alphabet alleging that Uber stole its self-driving technology. Lyft and Waymo are now collaborating on robotaxi pilots and it’s clear that, while Alphabet continues to profit from Uber’s success, it is eager to outflank and undermine the company through competitors like Lyft and its own Waymo technology.

The Lyft funding round wasn’t Uber’s only headache of the week. Grab, Uber’s main competitor in Southeast Asia, raised $700M in debt from regional and global banks. This is independent of a $2.5Bn funding round that the company is currently raising. Grab plans to use the $700M to build a fleet of vehicles that drivers can lease or buy under favourable financing, thus allowing more drivers to get on the road. Grab also announced an exclusive partnership with Singapore’s SMRT Taxi, which will ensure that cabbies who drive for SMRT can only accept rides through Grab, not Uber.

In other news, LG Electronics is teaming up with Qualcomm to jointly develop a range of next-generation connected car solutions. The two companies say they’ll focus on C-V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything) and 5G mobile technologies that enable a fully connected car platform. LG and Qualcomm will establish a joint research centre in South Korea.

Ford wants to expand its smart mobility initiatives internationally and it’s starting in London. The company opened a Smart Mobility Innovation Office in the Here East business campus of East London. The office will serve as a local hub to facilitate partnerships with other businesses and academic institutions and to run local pilots and programs, such as the plug-in hybrid Transit trial which is due to launch later this year.

Garmin launched the first aftermarket GPS navigation device to integrate the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. The device is prompted with the words “Alexa, ask Garmin…” The driver can then ask Garmin for directions to the closest service station, for example, or to a nearby restaurant. Feeling like Chinese? “Alexa, ask Garmin for directions to the best Chinese restaurant near me.” You get the picture. The device also allows drivers to control music and audiobooks, which stream from the phone through the vehicle’s stereo. Recommended retail is $149.

Finally, the CEO of General Motors’ self-driving car division, Cruise Automotive, told The Wall Street Journal that it’s about to deploy a self-driving car pilot in New York City. That was a headline that caught many people by surprise, including the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, who claimed that he’s heard nothing about it and is vehemently opposed based on the grounds of public safety. That prompted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office to clarify that it had granted GM permission, apparently without the city’s approval. A spokesman for The New York Department of Motor Vehicles then added: “The mayor can do whatever he wants but the city is subject to state jurisdiction – it’s Government 101. We understand that the mayor’s taxi-industry donors don’t like it but it is the future and all states are exploring it.” Surely this saga has more chapters left to unfold.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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