By Tina Bellon and Eimi Yamamitsu
AUSTIN, Texas / TOKYO, Apr 27 (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp to buy Lyft Inc’s autonomous driving technology unit for $ 550 million, the companies said, as the Japanese automaker raises its bets on automation with the recently created Woven Planet division.
The Level 5 automation acquisition will also give Toyota access to the more than 300 employees of the American transportation firm who work on full-autonomy technology.
“This is the first step in bringing people together. Obviously, technology and product development requires people, and that’s what this acquisition is all about,” Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner told reporters on Tuesday.
For Lyft, the deal will allow it to become profitable sooner and will remove the burden and risk of developing expensive technology that has yet to be mass adopted.
Kuffner said the Woven Planet, which was created in January, intends to continue investing and expanding the team, though he declined to comment on any future acquisition schedules or plans.
Takaki Nakanishi, analyst and CEO of the Nakanishi Research Institute, said that by expanding its partnerships, Toyota is “taking a step toward meeting its goals,” including autonomous driving technology.
Toyota, which currently offers Level 2 automation with advanced driver assistance technology, has other autonomous driving projects, including a joint venture with SoftBank Corp and is forming a consortium with General Motors Co, suppliers and semiconductor companies.
He has also been working closely with ride-sharing companies and owns a stake in Chinese company Didi Chuxing and Southeast Asian Grab.
Toyota had a stake in the autonomous driving unit of Lyft rival Uber Technology Inc, but transferred the stake after Uber sold the unit in December to auto company Aurora.
The automaker said in February it would develop and build autonomous minivans for ride-sharing networks with Aurora and its supplier partner Denso Corp.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin and Eimi Yamamitsu in Tokyo; Edited in Spanish by Ricardo Figueroa)