Top 5 Car Rental Industry Trends in 2019
High-tech movements remain major with more customer service options surfacing in car rental industry trends
While 2019 still has a few months to go before the 2020 New Year’s baby gets behind the wheel (a disturbing optic for the more safety-conscious out there), this year has had its share of trends that will continue to shape the industry, much of them for the better. This piece narrows the field of occurrences down to five.
Here are the top 5 industry trends that have emerged in 2019 and will continue to grow in the coming years.
1. Connectivity remains the top initiative
In the car rental industry in 2019, connectivity is king. The use of Internet technology and artificial intelligence has garnered more attention in the strides taken to improve the commercial prospects for autonomous vehicles, which despite several phases of improvements, encounter even newer problems to solve to make self-driving more foolproof. Newer innovations are being tested to mimic the more human nuances of driving and reacting faster to road anomalies.
Under the radar are more subtle uses of connectivity, especially in the rental car world. Avis has been making the greatest amount of noise in its connectivity undertakings, especially in the areas of customer service and fleet management. And for the most part, it’s worked having help shave off two percent of costs from its bottom line, especially in fuel mileage. Being able to track a vehicle’s mileage and overall performance has assisted in vehicle maintenance to drive fuel costs down. Additionally, Avis has upgraded its app to include additional customer service options, such as being able to split how customers would pay for the services of booking a vehicle.
Not to be outdone, Hertz has been dabbling in biometric technology, such as facial recognition, to boost speed and security when it comes to booking vehicles at airport terminals. The company has also poured a lot of its research in making service even faster once planes hit the tarmac via its Fast Lane program.
However, it’s in the marketing opportunities that connectivity is especially becoming effective. The technology, combined with a cloud-based management system, is being used to garner as much information on their customers, aside from basic demographic information, to examine their destinations, driving habits, mileageꟷany bit of information to get insight on the renting consumer that’s available to further target who’s most likely to use their services.
Still, despite all that progress, cybercrime remains to be another impediment, given a recent Consumer Watchdog report about how autonomous vehicles can still be vulnerable to hacking.
2. Increasing innovations in AI
Also congruent with connectivity has been the increasing use of artificial intelligence, also heavily employed to make autonomous vehicles more feasible. But a lot of that technology has been put to good use in other facets of the car rental industry.
The biggest area by far has been in inspection technology. Companies like UVeye have teamed up with the likes of Toyota and Volvo to use AI to scope out the condition of vehicles to examine the war and tear to cut down on maintenance and perhaps even improve the design lifetimes of their products. The pairing of Avis with tech firm Ravin is working on a similar endeavor to use the technology to get better readings on vehicular damage faster than their human counterparts.
Also being looked at is how AI can be used to analyze current data retrieved from car rental fleets for the sake of predicting future trends, gauging everything from customer demographics and driver habits to level of usage and destinations. It will definitely be a particularly handy tool for the more organic brain trusts to pinpoint the directions their companies are headed as well as examine how they can respond to other changes in the industry.
3. Companies now rolling out subscription packages
While subscriptions has been talked about in the industry, it didn’t become a reality until Enterprise came out with its first sub program in the spring, followed a few weeks later by Hertz, with its own version of the idea. Hoping flexibility would be key to attracting new customers, the company was testing the program out in a handful of states. Upon conclusion of that phase, and once Enterprise gets an idea of how well the system has gone over, a national rollout is likely to follow.
The Hertz program is similar to what Enterprise has in its package in that they both have two-tier options, based on the price of the vehicles in each level. Overall, Hertz offers the cheaper package although it has a more restrictive swap-out limit than what Enterprise features in its monthly program.
It’s occupying that middle ground of getting customers who need a vehicle more often than an occasional weekend booking, yet doesn’t want to invest into owning a vehicle. With the trend moving away from ownership to sharing, subscriptions might be the way to go for car rental firms, although whether other car rental industry participants will jump on that bandwagon remains a question at this stage.
4. Airport terminals upgrading car rental accommodations
There’s no argument that airport consumers are by far the biggest cash cow of the car rental industry and the same companies are among the steadiest tenants in the terminals that occupy them. So it has made sense that airport authorities would step in to make it easier for those firms to conduct their business.
What’s surprising is the extent to how a few of them bent over backwards to achieve that goal.
By far the biggest project is what’s being undertaken at LAX, namely a $2-billion terminal dedicated strictly for car rental companies, complete with automated train access, a square footage of more than five million to house at least 20 companies and nearly 20,000 stalls for their fleets.
Almost as impressive is the $340 million rental car complex recently opened in Kahului, Hawaii. Palm Springs has just put shovels in the ground to create a similar facility worth roughly $30 million.
Following suit are upgrades and convenient relocations on airport premises in such cities as Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, San Antonio, San Francisco and Tampa. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise since car rental transactions continue to be a rise, especially in Palm Springs, where it’s jumped as high as 16 percent.
5. More profits despite ride-sharing competitors
While this trend might still be premature as the third-quarter results aren’t out at this writing, the year has demonstrated that at least the major car rental players have managed to stave off the intrusion of ride-sharing competitors in the marketplace. Reports vary about how much of a chunk that the share contingent has taken out of the rental car market, with estimates ranging from five percent to eight percent.
Admittedly, while smaller and independent car rental firms might be having a tougher time competing with the likes of Lyft and Uber, the big three companies that control more than 90 percent of the market still remain in their respective drivers’ seats. Of those three, Enterprise remains the dominant big dog, reporting mid-year earnings of $24 billion, while Hertz took in $2.5 billion, followed by Avis at $2.3 billion.
Enterprise has said its ubiquitous presence worldwide, especially at airport terminals makes their services more accessible than other players. A few Hertz deals with Amazon to adopt its fleet for product deliveries and agreements with ride-sharing drivers to rent their vehicles have been great revenue streaming boons for the second-seeded competitor. But third-place Avis went the more technological route to offer greater customer service options and cut down on their operational costs, especially in fleet management.
Lest we forget…
Ironically, what hasn’t been a big deal in the car rental industry has been any strides taken to mitigate climate change, a hot topic that mainstream media find too irresistible to ignore. There’s a simple answer why that hasn’t been a major focus in that it’s more up to automakers to take up the charge and respond to those headline-blaring environmental warning signs, while car rental firms will likely add to their fleet what’s available in green technology vehicles. Still, that’s not stopping some players like Enterprise, which won an eco-friendly award for its oil recycling program. We’ll see how these car rental industry trends shape the future of the business, but rest assured, Bluebird’s car rental software will be there to help you adapt to whatever changes my occur in the industry.