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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: These Partnerships Are Out to Revolutionize Transportation

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

In this day and age, everything is changing. Each day brings with it a new smartphone, wearable device or tech-driven service that promises to make our lives simpler and easier. These "disruptive" innovations span every industry, from energy generation to agriculture.

But perhaps no industry is evolving more quickly than transportation -- and it probably needs to be that way: This year, transportation outpaced the utility sector as America's largest carbon emitter.

This shift brings with it an unavoidable need to cut those emissions down to size, particularly as the U.S. and China aim to formally join the Paris agreement before the G20 Summit this weekend. The emissions cuts the agreement requires demand big change. And no single company can go it alone.

Fortunately, this reality hasn't escaped big players in the space. This week we round up seven partnerships that aim to revolutionize transportation. Do you think they can?

Ford taps partners for driverless cars

Ford CEO Mark Fields made a big announcement last month: "Ford will be mass-producing vehicles with full autonomy, within five years."

Ford is hardly the first company to eye driverless cars in earnest. But Fields' announcement of a mass-produced model goes the furthest so far. And while rumors circulated that the automaker would link up with Google to develop autonomous cars, the partnership has yet to materialize.

That said, Ford won't go it alone when it comes to the next generation of personal transport. Four new partnerships -- with VelodyneSAIPSNirenberg Neuroscience and Civil Maps -- will help the automaker hone functions like distance sensing and machine learning.

And while the Google partnership seems to be on the back burner, we wouldn't count it out just yet. This spring, the two companies joined a cohort of stakeholders advocating for federal approval of driverless cars. And Ford may need more partners if it hopes to make a mass-produced vehicle a reality by 2021.

GM bets big on Lyft...

As the two largest ride-sharing services, Uber and Lyft, battle it out for domination in the future of transit, automakers previously tied to personal mobility are wary of being left behind.

With the financial crisis and auto bailout still top of mind, many are surprised General Motors even made it this far, but the automaker has no plans to throw in the towel. And with a new partner in Lyft, GM could be ready to turn over a new leaf.

At the start of this year, GM announced it would invest $500 million in the ride-sharing company to envision the future of auto transport. GM will provide cars at “hubs” for Lyft drivers who want to make some spare cash, but don’t necessarily own a car. The companies also say collaboration on autonomous-driving technology will be a component of the partnership.

... and Toyota strikes back with Uber

A few months after GM linked up with Lyft, Japanese automaker Toyota announced a "strategic partnership" of its own -- with Lyft's larger rival, Uber. Toyota said it planned to offer cars to Uber drivers through "flexible" leasing plans. The automaker didn't disclose how much it invested in Uber. But a source close to the situation told the Wall Street Journal that the figure was under $100 million, far lower than GM's investment in Lyft.

But the Japanese auto label is making moves, and those dollars and cents may not matter. The creator of America's most popular hybrid, the Prius, is now out to revive the oft-discounted hydrogen economy. Toyota's hydrogen-fueled Mirai made its debut this year, turning heads in the clean-tech space. (3p's Bill Roth tested the Mirai side-by-side with the Tesla Model S. Click here to check it out.)

And Uber is making moves of its own, although not the ones labor advocates may like. Despite its car-leasing partnership with Toyota, Uber is rapidly expanding its own leasing service, Xchange Leasing, which critics say is often predatory.

Walmart tests delivery services with ride-sharing giants

Gone are the days of hauling rickety carts up to that fifth-floor walk-up. If you live in a major American city, chances are you have at least a few options for getting your groceries delivered. Startups like FreshDirect made a splash in the space. And larger competitors, like Amazon and its Amazon Fresh service, are now looking to jump on the bandwagon.

You can now add Walmart to the list -- and the big-box retailer hopes a secret weapon can help it take the lead. At its annual shareholders meeting this summer, Walmart announced it would explore a partnership with Uber and Lyft to expand its grocery-delivery service.

In a few test locations, Walmart customers will submit their online orders, personalized shoppers will gather the items, and then an Uber or Lyft driver will haul the order the “last mile” to the delivery destination. As is often the case with Walmart -- and Uber and Lyft, for that matter -- some questioned how well the partnership will work out for employees. We'll keep an eye on this one as it develops.

Zipcar and Yakima deliver outdoor adventure to urbanites

Zipcar is the world’s leading car-sharing network. Yakima Products makes vehicle racks and cargo solutions. It seems like a match made in heaven. And in August, they proved it is.

Thanks to a new partnership, the two companies will bring Yakima bike, ski and surfboard carriers to Zipcars in North America. This exclusive deal enables Zipcar members to enjoy their favorite outdoor activities outside of the city without the cost and hassle of owning a car (or perilously bungee-cording bicycles into the trunk of a rented sedan).

According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 34 percent of the outdoor consumer market lives in cities. The partnership enables urban adventurers to "live a car-free or car-light lifestyle without sacrificing their ability to get out of the city and enjoy their favorite outdoor activities," the two companies said in a press release. More than 150 Zipcars in 17 North American markets will receive the new treatment.

Tesla and Panasonic build battery 'Gigafactory'


Back in 2014, the partnership between Panasonic and Tesla was the handshake heard round the world. The time-honored tech firm and electric-vehicle upstart agreed to work together on a battery 'Gigafactory.' The completed factory, they promised, would support the manufacture of 500,000 electric cars per year, and also produce utility-scale batteries fit for municipal energy storage.

No sooner had the partners announced their plans than states began lining up to host the new factory. In the end, it was Nevada that came out victorious. But that was over two years ago. How are things progressing?

Well, it depends on who you ask. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told a group of journalists this summer that EV batteries will start coming off the assembly line next year. That's a pretty optimistic statement considering that the factory was less than 15 percent completed as of late July. But 1,000 people are working seven days a week to hit the deadline, reported Jack Stewart of Wired.

After acquiring SolarCity this summer, the automaker plans to seek a new round of financing to support the Gigafactory, as well as meet demand for the forthcoming Model 3, Fred Lambert of Electrek reported this week.

Players converge on the Hyperloop

Clean-tech visionary Elon Musk first unveiled his idea for a high-speed ground transport system called Hyperloop back in 2013. The concept — in which passengers are transported in magnet-propelled capsules at more than 750 miles per hour — was quickly dismissed by many as a pipe-dream.

Musk opted not to pursue the concept himself (in all fairness, he has a lot going on). But he open-sourced his plans, allowing partners to convene and make his vision a reality. Earlier this year, three similarly-named companies -- Hyperloop TechnologiesHyperloop Transportation Technologies and Hyperloop One -- claimed to be inching closer.

Hyperloop One was the first to complete a public test. But all three companies, along with a few others, are still in the race. In the most recent development, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) scored a coveted partnership with German railway company Deutsche Bahn. The two firms plan to collaborate on a new “Innovation Train” that will combine Hyperloop technology with more traditional transportation methods, Jacob Kleinman of Techno Buffalo reported in July.

Will it be enough to bring HTT's technology to the head of the pack? Only time will tell. But we hope to see more collaboration, along with a healthy dose of competition, to move this groundbreaking concept forward.

Image credits: 1) and 6) Courtesy of Zipcar and Yakima; 2) Ford; 3) General Motors; 4) Toyota; 5) Walmart; 7) Hyperloop Technologies, Inc. (all editorial use only)

Video courtesy of Tesla 

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni