Alphabet's Waymo Hires Avis to Service its Driverless Cars

By Jack Nicas Features Dow Jones Newswires

Google parent Alphabet Inc. is hiring rental-car firm Avis Budget Group Inc. to store and service its self-driving cars in a deal that shows Alphabet's vision of a network of driverless taxis is getting closer to reality.

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Alphabet's driverless-car unit Waymo is ramping up a program it launched in April in Phoenix to eventually give hundreds of selected residents there free rides in its self-driving cars.

Under the program, Waymo needs a depot to service and dispatch its vehicles. The company said it chose Avis for its experience quickly fixing and cleaning rental cars and for its presence across the U.S. and abroad, which can help Waymo expand its program to other cities.

Avis, which also owns the rental-car service Zipcar, said that under the multiyear agreement, it is modifying some rental-car locations to park Waymo's vehicles and service them, including oil changes, tire rotations and cleaning. The companies didn't disclose financial terms of the deal or its specific length. The deal isn't exclusive, so Waymo can still partner with other fleet-management firms.

The news helped boost Avis shares 11% by midday Monday as it gave the company a lead on other auto firms hoping to get into the business of managing driverless-car fleets, a service that could include everything from arranging for financing and insurance to providing maintenance for fleet operators. During an investor conference last fall, Ford Motor Co. said it is looking to manage such fleets.

Waymo has 100 Chrysler Pacifica self-driving minivans and has ordered another 500 of the vans from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which Waymo equips with computers and sensors to make them self-driving. Waymo's cars, which also include Lexus SUVs, have driven more than 3 million miles in testing across California, Washington, Texas and Arizona.

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--Christina Rogers contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 26, 2017 13:23 ET (17:23 GMT)