As you might have noticed, or heard from us, rental agencies have been hoovering up new and used vehicles to offset the 2020 selloff that stemmed from everyone mysteriously canceling their travel plans that year. Returning to normal, which is something anyone who didn’t assume the world was ending could have predicted, has resulted in increased pricing for vehicles — regardless of whether you’re renting or buying.
Rental companies typically try to play the vehicle market like the rest of use stocks or (if you’re hip) crypto. Buy low, sell high. But 2021 has created a perfect storm of increased demand coming after a long stretch of nothing and an auto industry that doesn’t seem to be capable of building cars thanks to all sorts of component shortages. But it’s no sweat for the big rental agencies because they’re now able to charge just about whatever they want. They’re keeping vehicles in their fleets longer, making more money off them, and selling them back at elevated prices.
With rental companies coming off a particularly lean 2020, fleet downsizing turned out to be a necessity for many agencies. Unfortunately, demand for rental vehicles has begun to return and some markets have found themselves operating with an insufficient number of cars. The upside to this is the ability to charge exorbitant fees for models nobody wanted to rent in the first place. But businesses can’t cash in on vehicles that didn’t get rented, leaving agencies desperate for new product that’s been backlogged by the auto industry’s semiconductor shortage.
The solution is a novel one, at least for rental companies. Rather than gamble the business on whether or not supply chains normalize before summer, they’ve been prowling auctions and hoovering up used cars in record numbers.
Rental-car agencies, shunned by a population that didn’t know whether it was safe to go outside for most of the year, have reportedly started to turn things around. While the recovery didn’t come soon enough to save Hertz from having to declare bankruptcy, the summer months were much kinder to the industry as a whole. Despite the likelihood of 2020 remaining an unprofitable year, the final two quarters should help rental groups recoup some of the sustained losses.
A recent assessment conducted by the Wall Street Journal suggested that the industry is benefiting from a population that continues to shun air travel during the pandemic and elevated used vehicle pricing. While discount prices actually hampered Hertz right when it needed a miracle, secondhand auto rates surged through the latter half of the summer and helped stabilize the rest of the vehicle rental industry.
Lenders are cutting Hertz a break by affording the company an extended grace period, giving it a chance to cope with its debt. Last we checked on the rental agency, things weren’t going well. With governments cracking down on movement amid the coronavirus pandemic, no one is going anywhere — and the Hertz’s bottom line showcases exactly how bad this has been for business. Hertz had to bring in economic advisors to help the business manage its swiftly mounting debt load as it discussed how to avoid bankruptcy.
Similarly hit by the pandemic, airlines got a multi-billion-dollar bailout. Agencies like Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise, however, have had to seek their aid elsewhere, all the while hoping the U.S. Treasury Department answers their plea. Thus far, it’s been crickets.
Car renters are confronting a harrowing reality. They need to refresh their gigantic fleets in a period where no one can turn a profit, there’s little promise of a swift recovery, and used car values are cratering. Hertz started laying off workers in March as customers evaporated. By the end of April, it also announced it was defaulting on lease payments related to its fleet. With creditors rarely unclear about when they want their money, things were looking grim.
Hertz Global Holdings is reportedly bringing in economic advisors to help the business manage its mounting debt. Unsurprisingly, everyone in the world simultaneously canceling their vacation plans wasn’t great for business. Your author has had to cancel four trips this year, three of which would have included going from an airport to a rental agency. With others forced to do the same as the events and places they planned on enjoying closed up shop, the prognosis is not been good for the borrowed-automobile sector.
When we last checked in, rental agencies had slashed rates to an almost unimaginable degree. Realizing that cheap rentals actually earn you less money when you have a surplus of vehicles nobody wants, those prices have begun creeping back towards normal. But financial problems have not abated. Still, we can put a positive spin on this since you’re probably tired of hearing bad news. Instead of this signaling disaster for rental agencies, think of Hertz bringing in restructuring experts as a sign that it’s being proactive in coping with a truly undesirable situation.
Feel better? Alright, let’s bring you back to reality.
Car rentals have evolved rather dramatically in the new millennium. While you can still reserve over the phone before walking into an office to pick up the manager’s special for the agreed upon timeframe, alternatives are many. ZipCar transformed how some people get around an urban environment by allowing customers access to an array of automobiles at hourly rates. Seeing its potential, Avis acquired the company in 2013, expanding its function to include a less stringent return policy via ZipCar Flex.
Meanwhile, Enterprise has its own short-term rental services. Recently, the company has been on a kick to purchase as many mobility firms as it can. Hertz, which has been a little slower to dive into mobility culture, does offer alternatives to traditional rentals in specific markets. It also announced a new strategic partnership with the tech firm Aptiv last July to start testing autonomous fleets this fall.
This, of course, is all taking place in an era where carmakers are launching fleets of their own while attempting to rebrand themselves as data and mobility companies. But surely these rental agencies are just hedging their bets and trying to adopt new tech to better serve their customers. They’re not about to adopt the same tired rhetoric, are they?
We’ve been cautiously optimistic about the progress of autonomous driving. The miraculous technology is there, but implementing it effectively is an arduous task of the highest order. A prime example of this is how easy it is to “blind” a self-driving vehicle’s sensors.
TTAC’s staff has had its share of minor misadventures with semi-autonomous driving aids, be it during encounters with thick fog or heavy snow, but truly self-driving cars have even more sensitive equipment on board — and all of it needs to function properly.
That makes even the simple task of washing a self-driving car far more complicated than one might expect, as anything other than meticulous hand washing a big no-no. Automated car washes could potentially dislodge expensive sensors, scratch them up, or leave behind soap residue or water spots that would affect a camera’s ability to see.
General Motors has decided to further shrink its outgoing fleet of rental vehicles to prioritize its in-house vehicle lending service, Maven, and focus on getting newer cars to customers. That does mean building fewer vehicles overall, but GM shouldn’t care if it can keep raking in the profits — something rental fleets aren’t particularly good at in lower volumes, unless you’re the one charging a daily rate.
Alan Batey, president of GM’s North American operations, claims sales to rental fleets should drop by about 50,000 units this year and an undisclosed amount in 2018. It follows the company’s trend to scale back fleet sales in general. Big businesses accounted for 16.1 percent of its total U.S. sales in 2014, but that was reduced to 11.7 percent in 2016.
It’s the triumphant return of Ask Jack, the question-and-answer series that has proven to be significantly less popular than Ask Bark. Today’s question comes from several commenters on the Malibu LTZ Review, and it can be summed up like this:
If you’re only driving 500 miles or so during the weekend, why would you rent a car instead of taking your Accord/911/Boxster/Neon/Tahoe/Fiesta/motorcycles/bicycles/Uber/Southwest/Car2G?
I’m glad you asked. Really, I am. ‘Cause otherwise, today’s column would have been a long snd slightly sorrowful re-telling of a time I accidentally let my S5 roll downhill into a concrete parking block because I had both of my hands between some young mother’s legs in the passenger seat and my foot slipped off the brake when I leaned all the way over towards her.
Friend of TTAC Anand Ram writes about getting more than he bargained for at the Avis counter.
There’s an explosive truth I want to share: We writers don’t make a lot of money. While you gather yourself from the recoil of that bullet, here’s another: It doesn’t really stop us from wanting nice things.
Perhaps, then, the choice for this young writer’s first ever rental car makes little sense: Luxury.
Well, “luxury.” I’m not a car guy. I can name several pricey models, but I’ve driven around in my dad’s Toyota Corolla for most of my life. I know how a BMW 328i differs from a 335i in literal terms, but not on the road.
Please welcome Jeff Jablansky, our newest guest writer and resident messhugeneh
Attempting to carve into the curves of the Ramon Crater with a machine as dull as a Hyundai Getz is like trying to slice sashimi with a plastic knife. Or performing surgery with knitting needles.
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- Dukeisduke I'd like to see some kind of two-door pickup version (like the original Bronco, not a Gladiator clone). The one on the recent Dirt Every Day episode made a pretty decent crawler. I like the steelies on this one.
- THX1136 @Matt: Totally agree. Buying a 'used' cat is not the same as buying a used one. I would also suspect that the asking price would not be in the $800 range. Unfortunately there are folks out there that care not for their fellow man and would happily 'make a profit' at the customers expense (both literally and figuratively).
- ToolGuy "We’ll see what happens with Haas." I wonder what happened with Haas?