Apple Leases Fleet of Lexus SUVs to Test Self-Driving Vehicle Tech

Lexus-RX450h Credit: Lexus

Apple is partnering with rental car company Hertz to begin testing its self-driving car technology, according to a new Bloomberg report published Monday. The move could end up being a major  step forward for the historically shadowy “Project Titan.”

The Cupertino tech giant is reportedly leasing a “small fleet of cars” — specifically Lexus RX450h SUVs — from Donlen, a Hertz-owned fleet management company, according to recently released California DMV documents. Previously, in April, Apple received a permit to begin testing self-driving vehicles — those documents also showed Donlen as the lessor, according to Bloomberg. In addition, sources familiar with the matter told CNBC that Apple will lease six of the Lexus SUVs to the company to test their autonomous driving technology.

The news echoes — and closely follows — a similar partnership between Alphabet-owned Waymo and Avis Budget. Google’s own self-driving car initiative also announced its partnership early Monday, with a planned 600 vehicles slated to be deployed on public roads. In the wake of both announcements, shares of Hertz and Avis spiked.

Apple’s own “Project Titan” has been a poorly kept secret for quite a while, although details about the endeavor have remained vague until recently. Apple CEO Tim Cook finally acknowledged the existence of the project in an interview with Bloomberg earlier this month, admitting that “autonomous systems” were the focus of its car initiative. According to the publication’s sources, Apple has already been testing its systems on roads around the Bay Area for at least a year. And as a further hint of the company’s ambitions, Apple sent a letter to the California DMV in April asking for the agency to “amend or clarify” certain regulations and protocols concerning autonomous tech.

The road has reportedly been bumpy for Titan, a project that was originally rumored to be focused on producing an actual car. But Cupertino rebooted its vision late last year, whittling down its original plans and choosing to focus on building underlying autonomous systems and technology. Earlier this year, a trove of documents describing the technology was leaked to Business Insider. But today’s news could prove to be a leap forward for the initiative, and perhaps an integral part of Cupertino’s future plans. During his interview with Bloomberg, Cook called self-driving car technology the “mother of all AI projects.”

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