Google subsidiary teams with Avis to keep self-driving cars going on US roads

A fleet of Uber's Ford Fusion self driving cars are shown in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the US.
A fleet of Uber's Ford Fusion self driving cars are shown in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the US.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - US car rental giant Avis Budget on Monday (June 26) announced it will team up with Waymo on the self-driving cars being tested on Arizona roads.

The rental company said it would provide support and maintenance for Waymo, a subsidiary of Google-parent Alphabet, to keep the vehicles clean and mechanically ready to go.

News of the alliance caused Avis Budget Group shares to jump more than 10 per cent to US$26.75 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq exchange in New York. Financial terms of the multi-year agreement were not disclosed.

"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," Waymo chief executive John Krafcik said in a joint statement.

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"With thousands of locations around the world, Avis Budget Group can help us bring our technology to more people, in more places."

The collaboration will support Waymo's self-driving vehicle fleet and a ride-hailing service being tested in Phoenix, Arizona, according to the companies.

"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," said Avis Budget chief executive Larry De Shon.

Waymo recently announced plans to increase the number of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica mini-vans in its fleet to 600, and last month, announced it had reached an agreement with ride-share firm Lyft to explore self-driving car technology together.

That alliance teamed Waymo and Lyft against controversy-dented ride-sharing giant Uber, which is racing to develop its own self-driving vehicles, and which is locked in a bitter legal dispute with Waymo.

 

Avis Budget Group is a company that owns the Avis, Budget and Zipcar brands. The deal will help maintain Alphabet's self-driving car fleet in Phoenix, Arizona, which began serving members of the public in April. The pilot programme 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.

In February, Waymo filed a lawsuit claiming a former manager took technical data when he left to launch a competing venture that was later acquired by Uber.

Most major automakers and several other technology firms have been stepping up efforts on autonomous driving in recent years, contending these systems will eliminate the vast majority of road accidents. Apple is the latest to have obtained a testing permit in California.

German luxury carmaker Daimler and auto parts supplier Bosch announced plans this month to work together to create completely driverless cars in the next few years.

US-based Tesla also is investing in self-driving car capabilities, as are firms in China and other parts of the world.