Auto Tech

Waymo strikes self-driving deal with Walmart, Avis, AutoNation and more

Phoenix-area customers of numerous businesses will be able to hail self-driving Waymo test vehicles.

Developing self-driving cars is hugely expensive, but Alphabet's Waymo has long taken a decidedly egalitarian view of the technology's potential. Officials at the former Google autonomous division have said that Waymo is dedicated to pursuing the transformative mobility technology for the good of all. 

The latest proof? Waymo has announced a pilot program with many of the country's biggest companies, with the goal of making its autonomous test vehicles available to a wide swath of customers.

Among those new brands are omniretailer Walmart, car sales chain AutoNation, rental car agency Avis Budget Group, the Element Hotel and a real estate investment company, DDR.

The partnership is centered in and around greater Phoenix, where Waymo does much of its self-driving car testing.

With the deal, Waymo will transport Walmart customers to and from their local stores after they've placed orders for products on Walmart.com and opted into the service.

AutoNation customers will be able to take a ride in a Waymo self-driving car to wherever they need to go when bringing their cars or trucks in for service.

Certain Element Hotel guests in Chandler will be able to make use of autonomous Waymo test vehicles during their stays for around-town trips. The deal will be geared towards delivering a "VIP experience for visitors to Phoenix."

Waymo's self-driving test vehicles are going to be available at new Phoenix-area businesses.

Waymo

At the DDR-owned Ahwatukee Foothills Towne Center shopping mall in Phoenix, customers will be able to take rides in Waymo cars for shopping or dining excursions. 

The company says that these new test programs "represent eight of the top 10 activities our riders do when they get in a Waymo."

Keen followers of Waymo will note that the Alphabet brand already has deals in place with AutoNation and Avis Budget Group. Avis had previously been entrusted with making sure Waymo vehicles are charged, fueled and kept clean, while AutoNation services the vehicles themselves.

Waymo's CEO, John Krafcik, recently cautioned that widespread self-driving tech is still a long way away.

James Martin/CNET

It is not immediately clear what Waymo vehicles will be used for these expanded services. The company presently operates a large fleet of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans, and it recently took delivery of its first few Jaguar I-Pace electric SUVs.

Just last week, Waymo revealed that it has reached 8 million miles of autonomous vehicle testing, and is now accruing some 25,000 miles of real-world testing each day.

Despite Waymo's seemingly breakneck progress in developing self-driving vehicles, its CEO, John Krafcik, recently told a meeting of the National Governors Association that the time needed until the tech is available in wide circulation "will be longer than you think."