Zipcar Considers Adding Autonomous Cars to Fleet

Zipcar is not working on its own self-driving car, but it has started laying the groundwork for adding autonomous vehicles to its line.

by Jordan Graham, Boston Herald / February 29, 2016

(TNS) -- Zipcar is not building a self-driving car, but it is trying to make sure it is ready to take advantage of autonomous cars as soon as possible.

“We are in the mix as much as anyone could be,” said Nichole Mace, vice president of product and member experience for Zipcar. “From a member standpoint it’s just really an extension of what we’re doing today.”

Zipcar is very clear to say the Boston-based company is not working on its own autonomous car, but it has started laying the groundwork for adding self-driving cars to its fleet. Part of the foundation is Zipcar’s new technology platform that Mace said will allow the company to add new features easily.

“Change will come more quickly than ever,” said Zipcar chief executive Kaye Ceille in an email to members last week. “You’ve probably heard a lot about self-driving cars. And don’t worry, we’re on it.”

Mace said self-driving cars could be a big step forward for the car-sharing company, which keeps a handful of cars in parking lots and garages across the cities where it operates.

“Today if you need a car, there’s a car two blocks away, it’s around the corner, you can pick up the car,” she said. “In the future, the autonomous car, you won’t be walking a couple blocks, the autonomous car will be right outside your door.”

Mace said the company’s relationships with automakers will make it easy to add self-driving cars — either a few at a time or replacing a city’s fleet. Mace said autonomous cars could be on be on the streets in five to 15 years.

Zipcar is working with the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center, along with auto manufacturers including Ford, GM and Toyota. Mace declined to say if Zipcar is working with any of the new crop of companies in the industry that are not traditional car companies, such as Apple and Google.

Last week, Zipcar announced what it calls the next iteration of its service. Previously, car reservations were rigid and set in stone, and vehicles had to be returned to the same spot. Now, members will be able to take one-way trips and extend reservations on the fly.

Massachusetts is pushing to become the center of the self-driving car research and testing universe. The state departments of transportation and economic development will be hosting a meeting with representatives from some of the top companies working on self-driving cars. The meeting was planned for the beginning of February, but was postponed because of a winter storm.

Still, Zipcar is not the only local company with self-driving on its mind. NuTonomy, a Cambridge startup, is developing its own self-driving car. And auto giants Audi and Toyota have announced plans to center their autonomous efforts in the Boston area, with Audi partnering with the city of Somerville and Toyota working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

©2016 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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