Logo for the Urban Land Institute of St. Louis

Logo for the Urban Land Institute of St. Louis

In the not-too-distant future, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, and Alamo Rent A Car customers may be renting vehicles that drive themselves.

This was one of the key points presented by Greg Stubblefield, Enterprise Holdings’ executive vice president and chief strategy officer, during a panel discussion on “The Future of Land Use in a Region of Driverless Cars.”

The April 28 panel discussion — hosted by the Urban Land Institute of St. Louis — addressed both the benefits and concerns associated with automated vehicle technologies.

“The U.S. car rental industry may very well be one of the early adopters of autonomous vehicles,” said Stubblefield.

According to Stubblefield, based on what he’s heard, the first use of a true driverless car likely won’t happen until around 2021. Commercial uses for the cars could happen around 2030, according to a report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“There’s mapping that has to be done, there’s all sorts of technology that has to be there in a real time basis,” Stubblefield said. “There are a whole lot of things that are taking place. There’s no shortage of money and innovation going into that, so it’s going to happen.”

Chris Brown, editor of Auto Rental News magazine, agreed. “Autonomous vehicles will still need to be managed — fleeted, de-fleeted, maintained, and moved — and car rental companies are poised to do that, as they already run the largest fleets in U.S. and even the world,” he said.

Every year, Auto Rental News magazine charts the U.S. car rental market, ranking companies by revenue, fleet size, and number of locations. “The footprint of the industry stretches from coast to coast and includes both airport and what we call the home-city market,” said Brown. “The fact is, the autonomous vehicle model most likely will be well suited for a pay-as-you-go system, especially on the local level. And this plays into car rental's strengths of customer interface and management for the long term.”

“Consider that we average almost a million car rentals per week in the U.S.,” said Stubblefield. “We know many drivers first experience new automotive technologies in rental vehicles, and there’s no reason to think it will be any different with autonomous technology. So, while potential liability issues obviously still need to be evaluated, our industry can quickly and efficiently introduce new autonomous vehicles to millions of consumers in cities and towns of all sizes.”