Apple leased a small fleet of vehicles from rental company Hertz Global Holdings for the purpose of testing its self-driving car technology, pushing Hertz shares to its highest growth in almost two years.
The news broke after it was revealed that Google parent Alphabet entered a similar agreement with another rental company, Avis Budget Group, for its own self-driving fleet.
Apple Teams Up With Hertz For Self-Driving Car Tests
According to a Bloomberg report, Apple rented Lexus RX450h SUVs from the Donlen fleet management unit of Hertz. The information was acquired from recently released documents by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
In addition, when Apple received the license from the DMV in April to test three self-driving vehicles with six drivers, the documents showed Apple as the lessee and Donlen as the lessor.
It is unclear if the partnership between Apple and Hertz is simply for further testing of its self-driving car technology, or if it also means that customers will be able to rent vehicles fitted with the autonomous driving system.
A spokesman for Apple declined to comment on the partnership, while Hertz has not yet responded to a request for a comment.
Hertz shares have declined by more than 75 percent over the previous 12 months due to decreasing revenue and profits, with investors concerned that the rise of ride-hailing services and self-driving vehicles will diminish the role of rental companies in the automotive industry. However, upon news of the partnership with Apple, Hertz shares increased by 18 percent, which is the biggest jump seen by the company since July 2015.
Apple's Project Titan Still Here, But Is It Too Far Behind?
The partnership may be considered as a milestone for Project Titan, which is how Apple's self-driving car technology project is known internally. It struggled on its initial goal of creating an entire car, but a substantial reboot in September, headed by senior executive Bob Mansfield, refocused Project Titan to work on a self-driving vehicle system instead.
Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed that the company was working on autonomous vehicles, following the footsteps of rivals such as Google, traditional carmakers such as General Motors, and electric vehicle manufacturers such as Tesla. According to Cook, Apple is focusing on autonomous driving systems as a "core technology" that is "the mother of all AI projects."
Testing for Project Titan, however, has so far been limited. Earlier this year, a person familiar with the project told Bloomberg that six vehicles have been testing Apple's self-driving technology in the public streets of the San Francisco Bay area for at least a year.
That said, it is difficult to gauge where Apple is in terms of the development of Project Titan, especially when compared to the strides made by Alphabet's self-driving vehicle unit Waymo. While Waymo already has a well-developed self-driving system that it will be integrating into Chrysler Pacifica minivans that it will rent from Avis, Apple is renting Lexus SUVs to do what Waymo did five years ago before it created the dome-shaped self-driving Google Cars.