Lyft’s ambitious EV promise may give the industry a jump-start

Ride-hailing company Lyft’s lofty commitment to switch its entire fleet to electric vehicles by 2030 may be ambitious but could be a shot in the arm for the EV industry as it struggles against pandemic-related setbacks.

San Francisco-based Lyft, which operates in more than 650 cities across North America, announced it would transition to all-electric by 2030, saying the year would “go down in history as an inflection point for humankind.” Lyft — the second-largest ride-sharing firm in the United States — also acknowledged in its corporate pledge that government policy changes are crucial to transitioning all its cars to EVs by 2030.

Matt Petersen, CEO of the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator, said, “Lyft has leaned in versus the others, primarily Uber, by really innovating with electric vehicles.”

“This is an important signal to the market that EVs are the future,” he told Digital Trends. “Fueling costs are so much less. With the quieter ride, less vibration, overall healthy experience, it’s not just the lungs of people on the road.”

The press release from Lyft makes the case for pioneering action amidst a global pandemic, economic contagion, political unrest, and environmental catastrophe.

“Rather than hunker down and ride out COVID-19, we chose to stand up and accelerate our efforts to address the climate crisis,” the company said.

With the help of the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group, Lyft hopes to slash gas consumption by over one billion gallons. A white paper Lyft published this week contends that all transportation network companies should reduce carbon footprints.

John Zimmer, the company’s president, said Lyft’s push would compel other transportation, delivery, and rental car providers to make the same moves.

‘Major push to help drivers’

The cost of EVs and the batteries that power them continue to go down, says Richard Ezike, a mobility specialist at the Urban Institute’s Research to Action Lab.

“The company knows that this [2030 goal] will require a major push to help drivers make this transition,” Ezike told Digital Trends. “You’re not going to see many drivers use their personal money to buy electric vehicles.”

Ezike explained that the initiative’s success will depend on the proliferation of fast-charging stations and the continuation of tax credits at the federal and state levels, in addition to increased production by automakers.

In the 10-year transition period, Lyft’s Express Drive program will allow some drivers to rent electric cars from the company in exchange for driving a certain number of weekly hours.

Ezike said that Lyft’s decision to end its carbon offsets program, however, “will raise eyebrows and screams hypocrisy.”

He also said the company was struggling to fix coronavirus lockdown-related financial problems, “chronic unprofitability,” and regulatory issues around the proper classification of drivers.

“But the bottom line is that it’s all about the driver,” said Ezike, claiming consumers would worry most about price point, convenient charging, and range anxiety.

Shelley Francis, co-founder of consulting firm EVNoire, said, “EVs are now at price parity with fossil-fuel vehicles like the [new] Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.”

She also told Digital Trends that “rideshares can create additional congestion and pollution, but if you transition to clean [or] electric vehicles, you address the pollution issue while still providing a safe, affordable transportation service.”

‘Steep climb’

EVs make the most immediate sense for Lyft in denser cities like New York and San Francisco, where drivers log a lot of rides without much mileage, said Bruno Sarda, North America president for climate disclosure group CDP.

He told Digital Trends that Wednesday’s announcement was a “really encouraging sign, especially in the middle of — frankly — not a great time for the business.”

“There are plenty of excuses for companies to be gun-shy right now,” Sarda said. “This raises the bar, and I believe everyone else will have to follow.”

Sarda added that many types of companies with corporate fleets — Verizon, for example — will be compelled to jump on the bandwagon, as Lyft paves the way.

Partnerships with key cities could create a far better transit ecosystem, at a time when people are trying to get moving again.

Nick Nigro, founder of the Atlas Public Policy think tank, said that new EV registrations in the first part of the year fell just 11 percent, even while the whole automotive sector is down 22 percent from 2019 levels.

He remains skeptical but hopeful about Lyft’s aspirations, referring to the “steep climb” needed to achieve full electrification.

“They deserve support now from policymakers to lower the upfront cost of EVs for the near term, and build out a robust charging infrastructure for the long term,” Nigro said.

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