In another move that hints at how close self-driving cars may be to reality, Google/Alphabet-owned Waymo has announced a deal with AutoNation, the largest auto dealer in the US, to service its fleet of vehicles. The multiyear arrangement means that AutoNation will now be responsible for the maintenance and repair of the increasing number of Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans that are on the roads.
John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive, alluded to the relationship being another key step on the path from test rides to public adoption. In a statement, he said, “AutoNation will help assure that Waymo vehicles are always in top condition as we bring fully self-driving cars to the public.”
Safety is paramount
Maintenance of the fleet of vehicles is of increasing importance to Waymo. The vehicles undergo thousands of hours of testing and need to be permanently road-ready for this. As the vehicles themselves are destined for public service, then safety is of paramount importance, and any vehicle failures could be catastrophic.
In addition last month’s reveal of how Waymo is aiming to introduce a self-driving ride share service before the end of 2017, this news indicates that the company is inching ever closer to taking things beyond the test phase and into mainstream usage.
It seems like the race to be first to market with a fleet of self-driving vehicles is being lead by Waymo. When you combine this announcement with the news that Alphabet also invested $1 billion in ride-sharing company Lyft, Waymo’s position seems strong.