Car rental industry may be early adopter of driverless cars

Many drivers’ first experience of autonomous vehicles may be in a hire car, according to US-based car rental firm Enterprise Holdings.

The company — owner of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car brands — believes that the car rental industry could become one of the early adopters of autonomous vehicles.

“Consider that we average almost a million car rentals per week in the US,” Greg Stubblefield, Enterprise Holdings’ chief strategy officer and executive vice president, said last week. “We know many drivers first experience new automotive technologies in rental vehicles and there’s no reason to think it will be any different with autonomous technology. So, while potential liability issues obviously still need to be evaluated, our industry can quickly and efficiently introduce new autonomous vehicles to millions of consumers in cities and towns of all sizes.”

Chris Brown, editor of Auto Rental News magazine, agreed. “Autonomous vehicles will still need to be managed — fleeted, de-fleeted, maintained and moved — and car rental companies are poised to do that, as they already run the largest fleets in US and even the world,” he explained.

“The footprint of the industry stretches from coast to coast, and includes both airport and what we call the home-city market,” Brown continued. “The fact is, the autonomous vehicle model most likely will be well suited for a pay-as-you-go system, especially on the local level. And this plays into car rental’s strengths of customer interface and management for the long term.”

But don’t call your local car hire firm any time soon.

With mapping and other technology for autonomous vehicles still being developed — and the aforementioned liability issues still to be resolved — Stubblefield said that the first use of a true driverless car probably won’t happen until about 2021, and then in only a confined test space. The cars may become available for commercial uses around 2030, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

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