Avis Budget Group, the parent company of car rental services like Avis, Budget, and Zipcar, has struck a non-exclusive deal with Waymo to manage its growing fleet of self-driving minivans. Avis will clean and tend to Waymo’s vehicles, providing services like regular oil changes, but it won’t tinker with any of the self-driving hardware.
The partnership, which will begin later this year, only covers the self-driving vans Waymo has deployed in Phoenix. (Waymo also tests vehicles in Mountain View, California.) But CEO John Krafcik told Bloomberg that the company is open to growing the collaboration with Avis to other cities as Waymo expands. The company has been offering free rides in its minivans (with an engineer behind the wheel at all times) in the greater Phoenix area since late April in exchange for feedback from customers about using autonomous vehicles.
This is just the latest in a growing list of partnerships for Waymo, which was started as a project inside Google. Waymo announced in May that it is working with Lyft on advancing its self-driving technology, and has a similar deal with Honda. And, of course, the company’s minivans are built by Fiat Chrysler.
No one self-driving company has all the pieces of the puzzle
Like the deal with Lyft, if the partnership with Avis grows, it could give Waymo a chance to build a bridge between its self-driving technology and an existing customer base. It’s not hard to imagine Waymo using an on-demand app like Zipcar to serve up access to its self-driving minivans, or making them available to rent at an Avis counter at the airport.
Waymo’s not alone in this respect. Of the many companies that are currently working toward the goal of deploying a network of self-driving taxis, no single one of them has all the parts that are necessary to handle such a big task. Uber has the app, and the network of users, but its self-driving tech is fledgling at best, and it doesn’t have a clear path for manufacturing autonomous cars at scale. Lyft has a smaller user base, but boasts partnerships with GM and self-driving companies like Waymo and NuTonomy.