With its main competitor, Uber, now leaderless and facing a venerable sea of scandals, ride-hail giant Lyft is doing a victory dance: the Electric Slide.
The Silicon Valley heavyweight announced last month that it plans to introduce a fleet of vehicles powered 100% by renewable energy—with all of those cars not only environmentally-friendly, but able to drive themselves, to boot.
The electric initiative comes as part of Lyft’s recently-announced set of climate impact goals, a lofty group of targets and ambitions on which the company hopes to follow through by 2025.
But the company is hoping the impact of the initiatives will reach far beyond its own walls—or even the rideshare industry itself.
An Embarrassment of Riches
The electric announcement was made on the heels of another declaration by Lyft that the rideshare company would be partnering with autonomous vehicle developers nuTonomy.
The MIT-spinoff has been in the self-driving car game for years, and has been testing its fleet in Singapore since 2016.
Lyft already has a contract with Alphabet’s Waymo—arguably the world leader in autonomous vehicle development—and a $500 million deal with General Motors, meant to eventually launch the automaker’s autonomous electric Chevy Bolt through the rideshare company.
The plethora of partnerships with such heavy hitters is likely a play for Lyft to meet its ambitious goal of offering “a majority” of its rides in self-driving vehicles by 2021.
But the nuTonomy deal lets Lyft jump into the game even earlier.
The Boston-based company recently gained permission to bring their renewable energy prototype, called the Renault Zoe, back home for testing in Massachusetts.
Lyft's $500 million deal with General Motors is meant to eventually launch the automaker’s autonomous electric Chevy Bolt through the rideshare company.
Seeing—and seizing on—yet another autonomous opportunity, Lyft will be able to kick off its electric initiative with a bang, using the nuTonomy contract to launch “thousands” of the vehicles throughout Boston later this year, the company said.
While Lyft is moving fast and furious toward that end, the company will likely still see a bit of a wait to begin the electric program. Massachusetts has allowed for nuTonomy to test cars in Boston, but the state has yet to give permission for passengers to ride in the prototypes.
Still, the authorization should come soon, Lyft officials said. Once it does, the company will focus on “research and development around the passenger experience,” and “optimizing” those rides by “sharing knowledge” with passengers about how the vehicle drives itself, company officials said.
The Boston-based initiative will also allow the rideshare giant to focus on achieving another corporate promise: that 1 billion rides per year by 2025 will be offered in electric autonomous cars.
But they’re not the only company striving for such an ambitious—and clean—future.
We’re Still In, Paris
Lyft’s environmental pursuits were inspired, in part, by the recent announcement by President Donald Trump that the United States would be leaving the Paris Agreement—the accord signed by virtually every nation on earth, promising to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2020.
The rideshare giant was one of a group of 902 businesses and investors, 9 states, 125 cities, and 183 colleges and universities—comprising a collective 120 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the U.S. economy—who banded together to join the “We Are Still In” movement, a coalition dedicated to continuing toward the cleaner future outlined in the agreement, regardless of Washington’s position on the matter.
“Collective action is a powerful force that will ensure the U.S. remains on track to meet and hopefully exceed the goals of the Paris agreement,” Lyft co-founder John Zimmer said in a press release about the group. “Lyft is proud to be a part of this coalition and will be taking additional actions in the months and years ahead to ensure we do our part in addressing one of the greatest challenges of our time.”
Specifically, the company sees its renewable energy campaign as part of that action.
In Lyft's list of climate impact goals, it pledged to help reduce CO2 emissions in the American transportation sector by at least 5 million tons per year by 2025. To help with its efforts, the company hired on a climate advisor, Paul Hawken, who is the executive director of the non-profit Project Drawdown, which is dedicated to curbing global warming.
Still, not everything about the company’s plan is a clean break from pollution.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
In order to help reach its 2025 emissions goal, Lyft will purchase renewable energy certificates—similar to the pollution credits offered in the controversial cap-and-trade market.
While proponents of the system argue that it offers monetary incentive for companies to behave more environmentally responsibly—and gives many corporations a chance to cash in on the green movement—others say the arrangement is still in need of improvement, pockmarked with regulatory loopholes and chances for companies to claim “100% renewable” without delivering on that promise.
The issue is complicated—to say the least.
Still, Lyft is banking on such certificates to let it rest on a renewable energy reputation, admitting that it “may test a variety of prototype vehicle types in the future” to the website The Verge.
The company does hope to eventually employ entirely electric vehicles, however, saying that ridesharing apps offer the key to spreading such technology from its nearly infinitesimal 0.1% presence on the road currently to a majority of vehicles within 20 years.
All told, Lyft seems primed to help the battery-powered movement keep going, and going, and going.