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Enterprise enters AV fray with Voyage's self-driving minivans

Voyage is starting with individual communities and scaling up from there.

Minivans make a great AV platform -- a big roof for self-driving hardware, with a roomy second and third row for passengers.

Rental car companies are slowly dipping their toes into the autonomous vehicle space, and Enterprise is the latest company to announce its plans.

Enterprise has teamed up with Voyage to manage the service and maintenance of the startup's fleet of autonomous vehicles. Voyage's latest vehicle, the G2, uses a Chrysler Pacifica minivan as its base before outfitting it with hardware and software to enable SAE Level 4 (conditional) autonomy.

In fact, the cars actually belong to Enterprise. Enterprise leases them out to Voyage, and when the lease terms are up, Voyage will simply remove its hardware and hand the vehicle back -- similar to Apple's leasing of Lexus SUVs from Hertz's Donlen fleet management company. The Voyage G2 uses Velodyne's VLS-128 lidar system, which can create up to 9.6 million points per second at up to 300 meters. Velodyne claims it's the world's most advanced lidar system, but it's very, very capable nevertheless.

Voyage's goal isn't to sell you an autonomous car. Instead, it wants to build a service, similar to what Waymo is offering in its pilot program in Phoenix. Voyage's testing is relegated to two retirement communities, focusing on bringing mobility to those who may not be able to drive anymore. Eventually, it wants to launch a full commercial service in The Villages, Florida, where anyone in the city can hail a self-driving minivan via an app.

Rental-car companies have been trying to stake a claim in the AV space as it develops, since their primary method of making money could well be compromised in the future. Last summer, Waymo and Avis Budget inked a deal that will see the latter servicing and maintaining the former's fleet of self-driving minivans (also Chrysler Pacificas). 

Don't count on picking one of these up next time you land at the airport.