One of the nation’s biggest rental-car companies will be supporting Alphabet’s latest venture into self-driving cars, the two firms said Monday.
Avis Budget Group, the company that owns the Avis, Budget and Zipcar brands, has signed a deal to help maintain Alphabet’s self-driving car fleet in Phoenix, Arizona, which began serving members of the public in April.
The pilot program in Arizona has been picking up passengers and dropping them off as part of an experiment tinkering with the future of transportation. Waymo’s test is an effort to understand where regular people want to go with self-driving cars, and how they interact with them. It’s similar to the one Uber launched in Pittsburgh last year involving the company’s own self-driving cars.
Under the terms of Monday’s deal, Avis Budget Group is expected to care for Waymo’s fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans and other vehicles forming the backbone of Alphabet’s planned 600-vehicle fleet in Phoenix. Avis will clean the cars, as well as perform regular maintenance such as oil changes, tire rotations and installing ordinary replacement parts.
“This partnership will allow Avis Budget Group to service Waymo’s growing number of cars on the road, ensuring Waymo’s self-driving vehicles are ready for riders around the clock,” the two companies said in a statement.
The maintenance deal does not appear to extend to the actual rental of self-driving cars; riders who wish to use Waymo’s vehicles currently must apply for permission to participate in the company’s early rider program. Still, the deal highlights the way that rental companies, with their nationwide scale and experience maintaining vehicle fleets, could become key players in the spread of self-driving technology.
Transportation experts anticipate that in densely populated areas, self-driving fleets such as Waymo’s could soon become the norm. Ride-hailing companies have already demonstrated that calling a car to your location on a smartphone is easy; now, analysts say, the next step will be to automate the driving itself so that the cars can run more efficiently.
Shares of Avis Budget Group briefly surged 20 percent on the news; as of 11 a.m. Eastern, its stock was up roughly 9.75 percent. Shares of Alphabet were down 0.83 percent.
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