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Rental Car Brands Avis And Hertz Shift Gears To Self-Driving

Avis has been rapidly ramping its connected car and shared mobility offerings. Hertz is taking its own road to the future of driving.

As a range of car manufacturers like General Motors roll out more connected car features and evolve their approach to shared mobility, car rental brand Avis Budget Group and its rival Hertz are working to make sure they doesn’t get caught behind all the technological changes.

Like any other company that depends on getting its customers from one place to another, Avis and Hertz recognize they’re operating in the transportation industry, not just the car rental business.

So rather than follow once car manufactures like General Motors, with its growing Maven shared-mobility program, or Audi, which recently acquired airport-focused and app-based auto rental startup Silvercar, the two are starting to explore their respective options with self-driving cars.

On Monday, Avis signed a “multi-year agreement” to begin working with Google parent Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous vehicle experiment.

The Avis deal calls for the rental car company to support Waymo’s “growing” autonomous vehicle fleet as well as Waymo’s early rider program, a public trial of its self-driving cars in Phoenix, Arizona.

Waymo recently announced that it is adding hundreds of Chrysler Pacifica minivans to build a 600-vehicle fleet. 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 company said in a release.

“With members of the public using our growing fleet of self-driving cars, our vehicles need standard maintenance and cleaning so they’re ready for our riders at any time of the day or night,” said John Krafcik, chief executive officer, Waymo. “Avis Budget Group is an ideal partner to provide fleet support and maintenance. With thousands of locations around the world, Avis Budget Group can help us bring our technology to more people, in more places.”

“We are excited to partner with Waymo, the self-driving technology leader that is changing the mobility landscape in a profoundly transformative and beneficial manner,” said Larry De Shon, president and chief executive officer, Avis Budget Group. “Not only does this partnership enable us to leverage our current capabilities and assets, but it also allows us to accelerate our knowledge and hands-on experience in an emerging area as Waymo-enabled self-driving cars become available in the marketplace.”

Hertz Drives With Apple

Separately, Bloomberg News reported that Apple began leasing Lexus RX450h sport-utility vehicles from Hertz’s Donlen fleet-management unit in April, citing to documents released by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.

The Bloomberg report pointed to restive investors’ growing concerns about the role rental car companies will play in the autonomous vehicle future that appears to be fast approaching.

Even more than Hertz and Avis, Apple is also trying to keep pace with self-driving cars. With Amazon and Google ahead of the Cupertino company in powering voice-activated assistants within the connected home, Apple’s Project Titan, the name for its self-driving program, is perceived as lagging its rivals’ efforts in that area.

Still, Apple’s got a vastly different focus that might allow it to ultimately strike when the autonomous car moment is particularly hot. Instead of building its own autonomous cars, the company is mainly interested in providing the software that powers other brands’ vehicles.

In that sense, the race for the autonomous car is chaotic, and each brand is approaching it from the perspective of its own set challenges and strengths.

Avis’s Connected Car Commitment

Over the past year, Avis has struck a number of partnerships designed to allay those concerns and position it at the table for whatever shape the autonomous vehicle future arrives in.

Back in May, Avis touted its commitment to the connected car, saying that 50,000 more vehicles becoming fully connected by early 2018, more than doubling the number of connected vehicles in the Avis fleet. I

“This investment will bring the total of connected cars in the Avis fleet to nearly 100,000,” said Arthur Orduña, chief innovation officer, Avis Budget Group, at the time. “It will also ensure that we remain at the forefront of our industry and will bring us one step closer to realizing what we believe is the future of car rental for our customers.”

Roadmap To The Self-Driving Car Future

After Uber and Alphabet/Google stepped up investments in autonomous cars, traditional car companies and electronics manufacturers reacted quickly to form alliances and stakes in companies to ensure that they, too, don’t get left behind.

For most consumers at the moment, the idea of a driverless car still seems like science fiction — and along with the uncertainty of buying wearables, it’s not certain that people are clamoring for a virtual chauffeur. But then again, before the iPhone, how many people considered taking photos of themselves with their phones or pressing a button for food delivery and payment — or order a car service, for that matter.

As the technological hurdles are being dealt with on the road to the driverless car, a variety of major automotive manufacturers, electronics companies, and tech platforms appear all in on the idea of “if you build it, they will come.”

And for Avis and Hertz, along with all entities across the auto industry, if they’re not part of the building it, they’re likely to be stranded when the mainstream expectation fully emerges.