Lyft, GM are offering free rental cars to get more drivers

General Motors and ride-sharing company Lyft this month will launch a short-term rental program for Lyft drivers in Chicago with a fleet of 125 Chevrolet Equinoxes.

The program, called Express Drive, will rent vehicles to Lyft drivers for one to eight weeks, including free maintenance and insurance. The companies said in a joint statement that service will expand “soon” to Boston, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore as part of an eventual nationwide rollout.

Drivers will pay less the more they drive, with heavy users getting free use of their rentals, the companies said.

Drivers who complete fewer than 40 rides a week will pay $99 a week and 20 cents a mile. Between 40 and 64 rides, the mileage fee will be waived. Drivers who make 65 or more rides will have free access to the vehicle.

Lyft President John Zimmer said in an interview that Express Drive offers a competitive advantage over rivals, such as Uber, by offering free insurance and maintenance and the prospect of free wheels.

Partnering with one of the biggest automakers “allows us to do things for our drivers and customers that other people can’t do,” he said.

Zimmer added that the program should attract thousands of people who want to drive for Lyft but don’t have a vehicle that qualifies. About 60,000 people in the Chicago market applied to become Lyft drivers but were rejected because their cars were too old or didn’t meet other requirements.

GM chose the Equinox crossover because it’s compact but offers a comfortable interior and versatile storage, Julia Steyn, GM’s vice president of urban mobility programs, said in an interview. The Equinox also will be offered in other cities along with other GM vehicles, though Steyn wouldn’t discuss the future model mix.

Express Drive is a piece of a broader GM-Lyft partnership announced in January, in which GM agreed to invest $500 million in the San Francisco company. Steyn said the rental program will build the infrastructure for an eventual fleet of on-demand autonomous vehicles, the long-term goal of the partnership.

The logistics of renting the vehicles and tracking driver contracts will be handled by Maven, the mobility subsidiary that GM created in January. GM is covering maintenance costs and is sharing the insurance cost with Lyft, Steyn said. Warranty work will be done at GM dealerships, she said.