Lyft will have self-driving cars in five years. Will Chevy Bolt have starring role?

While GM continues to prepare the Bolt EV for launch, its allied ride-sharing service Lyft announced that it will have self-driving cars within five years.

Tony Ding/AP/File
The Chevrolet Bolt EV electric concept vehicle is driven onto the stage at a presentation during the North American International Auto Show, in Detroit.

With a 238-mile range and a $37,500 price before incentives, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV could be a game changer for electric cars.

But what if that isn't its only mission?

As the first 200-mile electric car offered anywhere in the world at a mass-market price, the Bolt EV could appeal to a broader range of consumers than previous models.

But given other activities within the automaker's sphere of influence, it's possible that not all Bolt EV production will go to individual car buyers.

While GM continues to prepare the Bolt EV for launch, its allied ride-sharing service Lyft announced that it will have self-driving cars within five years.

Specifically, Lyft plans to roll out autonomous cars in three phases, beginning next year, co-founder John Zimmer wrote in a Medium post.

The first phase will involve semi-autonomous cars limited to specific routes, Zimmer wrote.

Lyft will then introduce autonomous cars that are not limited to fixed routes, but also won't travel over 25 mph.

By 2021 or 2022, Zimmer expects all Lyft rides to use fully-autonomous cars, and for personal car ownership to be virtually eliminated by 2025.

The announcement comes roughly a year after GM invested $500 million in the ride-sharing service, in exchange for a 10-percent stake.

As Lyft has been plotting the demise of personal car ownership, the Bolt EV has served as an autonomous testing platform for Cruise Automation, which GM purchased outright last year.

Autonomous Bolt EV test mules are currently traversing the streets of San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, in fact.

While Lyft is not wholly owned by GM (it reportedly refused an offer to be bought by the carmaker, in fact), it would make sense for GM to provide self-driving cars to the company.

GM already leases cars to Lyft drivers at special rates in certain cities, and such an arrangement would help both companies deal with competition.

Lyft rival Uber launched an autonomous ride-sharing pilot program in Pittsburgh last week, and is now allied with Volvo, which has been developing its own autonomous cars for the past several years.

In addition, Ford recently announced that it would launch a fully-autonomous production car for ride-sharing services by 2021.

The combination of ride sharing and self-driving cars is viewed as particularly attractive by both analysts and executives.

Eliminating human drivers would significantly reduce the cost of operating ride-sharing services.

Autonomous cars would also theoretically be able to stay in operation for longer periods—racking up more fares in the process.

For automakers, developing autonomous cars is a way to take advantage of this potentially-lucrative source of revenue.

It also acts as a hedge against the deleterious effect mass adoption of ride sharing could have on new-car sales.

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