ZipCar Gears Up for Autonomous Driving

By now it’s obvious that autonomous driving vehicles will play a crucial role in the ride-sharing market. Uber has made clear its intentions of ditching the driver, and autonomy is an important element of General Motor’s $500 million investment in Lyft last month.

“We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous,” GM president Dan Ammann told Wired. “With GM and Lyft working together, we believe we can successfully implement this vision more rapidly.”

Self-driving will also figure prominently in car-sharing, and market leader Zipcar is gearing up for the shift autonomy will bring to its business. “We are in the mix as much as anyone could be,” Nichole Mace, vice president of product and member experience for Zipcar, told the Boston Herald. “From a member standpoint it’s just really an extension of what we’re doing today.”

Zipcar is gearing up for the shift autonomy will bring to its business. Photo by Zipcar.

Zipcar is gearing up for the shift autonomy will bring to its business. Photo by Zipcar.

But unlike Uber, Google and reportedly Apple, Mace said that Zipcar doesn’t intend to build its own fleet of autonomous vehicles. Instead, Zipcar is focused on being prepared for the transition to self-driving and how it could affect and enhance its business by adding new features and services.

For example, Mace said that self-driving cars could allow the company to move beyond storing vehicles in parking lots and garages in cities and instead operate door-to-door service. “Today if you need a car, there’s a car two blocks away,” Mace said. “In the future … you won’t be walking a couple blocks. The autonomous car will be right outside your door.”

Mace added, the company’s relationships with automakers will enable it to simply add autonomy as the technology becomes viable, whether it’s a few vehicles at a time or by replacing a city’s entire fleet. Zipcar already works with Ford, GM and Toyota, as well as with University of Michigan’sMobility Transformation Center, which operates the MCity autonomous-car testing facility near Ann Arbor.

Mace wouldn’t comment on whether Zipcar is also working with tech companies such as Google on autonomous cars. But she did predict that autonomous cars could be available within five years.

And according to the Boston Herald, Zipcar CEO Kaye Ceille wrote in an email to members last week that “change will come more quickly than ever. You’ve probably heard a lot about self-driving cars,” she added. “And don’t worry, we’re on it.”

Originally published on Forbes magazine