Uber rival Lyft accelerates efforts to develop self-driving cars

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Recruiters for Lyft wait for the opening of a job fair in Golden, Colorado, June 7, 2017. Rick Wilking/Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — Lyft Inc has formed a self-driving car division, company executives said, a bold investment for the second-largest U.S. ride-services firm as it jockeys for position in the highly competitive autonomous vehicle race.

The executives said on Thursday the company would soon open a facility in Palo Alto, California, that would eventually be staffed by “several hundred” engineers. Lyft engineers will collaborate there with autonomous vehicle experts from other companies to build self-driving systems.

“We are putting down the accelerator significantly on investment on this,” Raj Kapoor, chief strategy officer for Lyft, told reporters at its San Francisco headquarters.

The move marks a striking strategy change for Lyft, which said previously it would leave the building of self-driving systems to others while allowing partners to test their autonomous cars in Lyft’s ride-hailing network.

Lyft previously announced partnerships with Alphabet’s self-driving division, Waymo, technology company Nutonomy, and automakers General Motors Co and Jaguar Land Rover. Lyft’s new effort could put it in direct competition with some of those partners.

The company, which will not be manufacturing the actual cars, offered no time line for its self-driving ambitions. Executives said Lyft would share data from its self-driving efforts with other companies joining the collaboration.

Lyft does not have a permit to test autonomous cars in California, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The company plans to launch a pilot with Nutonomy in Boston by year-end.