Back in April, we reported on Waymo’s plans to offer an autonomous ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Arizona. The project has been spun off from Google’s self-driving car project, and Waymo is using a fleet of adapted Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to perfect its self-driving technology. Today, the company announced it is entering into a deal with the rental car company Avis to service and store the vehicles.
Autonomous ride-hailing services are being viewed by car and tech companies as a potential gold mine in a near future where car ownership is losing its luster. Instead of selling autonomous vehicles directly to the public—which will happen eventually—operating the fleets themselves means they can be commercially insured, solving (for the time being) one of the big unanswered questions about the evolving technology. But owning and operating a fleet of vehicles is easier to do if you’re a car manufacturer with the resources and experience already in-house.
Waymo will own the autonomous test fleet and will pay Avis to look after the vehicles. The move proved to be quite positive for the latter’s share price, which rose by 12.5 percent this morning once news broke. That’s understandable, as the rental car industry is one that could be seriously affected by the arrival of autonomous vehicles, although it’s worth remembering that for the first few years, such services will be geofenced to certain metropolitan areas.