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Love Hertz: Why the industry is courting car rental companies

Rental car company Hertz: an enabler for driverless cars? (Photo: Hertz)

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Angelo Rychel
Angelo Rychel
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Hello, automated driving community! Avis and Hertz suddenly are all the rave, the International Motor Show is casting its shadows and a driverless robocar has an eye-popping performance: we bring you this week’s key stories from the world of automated driving!

Rental companies in some ways resemble CD players: they still exist, but their business is in steep decline and they seem to be more of a throwback into the 20th century. Once we are able to simply hail a driverless ride with our smartphones, renting a vehicle will be pretty much obsolete.

Or, wait. Not that fast. Not only did stock prices for rental car companies Avis and Hertz skyrocket last week – after both companies struck deals with huge self-driving car players – but experts now even consider these companies a crucial door opener for the mass deployment of driverless cars. I guess we can call it a comeback.

This is what happened: Waymo just announced a partnership with US rental car giant Avis who will manage Waymo’s autonomous fleet in Phoenix, Arizona. With Waymo having recently partnered with ride hailing service Lyft, this deal may strike you as a little odd at first. So what does Waymo stand to gain from it?  Well for starters, an exceptional infrastructure. As reported by Recode, Avis is currently running 11,000 locations worldwide – which means not only international market coverage but also extensive know-how in efficiently cleaning and maintaining a massive vehicle fleet. This expertise will become especially important once cars run driverlessly – because, you know, there won’t be a driver anymore to take care of this. Avis’s locations could also serve as a spot where autonomous vehicles are parked when not on the road.

On a slightly smaller scale, Apple is cooperating with Avis’s competitor, Hertz. The iPhone maker will lease several Lexus SUVs from the rental company to test their self-driving efforts in California. Judging from Hertz’s increase at the stock market, shareholders may well expect more to come. And let’s not  forget German rental firm Sixt, which has already been cooperating with BMW on the car sharing service DriveNow for several years. Thinking about it, maybe rental companies rather resemble record players. They might be old, but they are currently celebrating a revival.

IAA: Let the show begin

Talking about old but still relevant: the International Motor Show (IAA), the world’s largest motor show, will definitely be one of this year’s industry highlights. Starting September 14, it is already looming large on the horizon. With exhibitors starting to present their trade fair highlights, it is safe to say that connected and automated driving will once again take center stage.

IT security giant Kaspersky, for instance, will present a secure platform for vehicle-to-vehicle communication at IAA’s New Mobility World – a move to tackle cyberattacks on connected cars. And supplier Continental plans to make automated driving a key part of their IAA program – including a demo vehicle named CUbE (Continental Urban mobility Experience). CUbE is a driverless robotaxi for urban traffic that Continental is trialing in Frankfurt to validate autonomous driving.

Watch out for more announcements from OEMS and suppliers regarding trade fair highlights in the weeks to come. And of course, we’ll keep you posted on all new developments.

Roborace: Need for driverless speed

Let me conclude this week’s column with some eye candy. It’s a video of the stunning demonstration that spectators at the Berlin ePrix at Tempelhof airport got to witness: a driverless racing car, doing its laps at top speeds of 124 mph (200 km/h). That’s right, there was no driver in the car. The vehicle called DevBot is a prototype of Roborace – the company that is planning an autonomous racing series as a support series of Formula E.  Roborace has released two videos: the first one explaining how this successful stunt was achieved, the second one – equally intriguing – some in-cockpit footage of a full lap at the Berlin circuit.

How did DevBot perform? According to Roborace, its lap time was only 8% behind the scores of a skilled human driver. So buckle up racing drivers!

So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless),

Angelo Rychel

Editor, 2025AD

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