Though Sixt is a public company, it is still family driven. Erich Sixt, chairman of the board of directors, is flanked by his wife Regine, senior executive vice president for Sixt international marketing, and sons Alexander (back) and Konstantin, representing the fourth generation of the family within the company. Alexander is head of corporate development, while Konstantin manages the company’s Internet activities.
And then there were three. When the Hertz acquisition of Dollar Thrifty is finalized, Hertz, Avis Budget Group and Enterprise Holdings will control more than 93% of the auto rental market in the U.S. The consolidation leaves industry watchers and consumers alike asking the question, “Will there ever be room in this market for a new car rental company?”
And then there is Sixt. Started in Germany in 1912, Sixt might just be the oldest car rental company in the world — or at least the oldest (and biggest) car rental company the American public has never heard of. But that is changing.
Sixt stuck a flag in America early last year when it opened in Miami International Airport. It has since opened four more corporate stores in Florida, another in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and has most recently expanded westward to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport. The company is looking to open more on-airport corporate stores and has embarked on a U.S. franchise initiative.
Sixt’s plans for America are an extension of the company’s global expansion, which began only 15 years ago. The company now counts about 2,000 locations in more than 105 countries.
With more than $2 billion (EUR 1.564 billion) in total revenue in 2011, Sixt Group can be called a “mobility services provider.” In addition to car rental, Sixt offers fleet management and leasing services, chauffeur services, a luxury rental division and DriveNow, a joint car sharing venture with BMW.
The company, started by Martin Sixt, went public in 1986 yet it still remains a family business, now on its fourth generation. Auto Rental News spoke with Erich Sixt, chairman of the board of directors, to understand the company’s direction and plans for U.S. expansion, and Craig Olson, head of Sixt’s franchise development in North America.
Why Here, Why Now?
So why is Sixt moving into the U.S.? “If you want to be a global player you must be in the biggest car rental market in the world,” Sixt responds, adding that it was important to first establish and expand the European market before voyaging across the Atlantic.
The interior of a location in Nürnberg demonstrates the company’s attention to design detail. The company celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2012 and is in the midst of a significant international expansion. “The world is orange and black, that’s what we are working on,” reads a line from the company’s 2011 annual report.
A presence in America gives European business and holiday travelers another familiar choice, especially to Florida, a top European vacation destination. In a testament to the company’s global footprint, however, Sixt says he was surprised that initially more Sixt clients traveling to Miami were not coming from Germany but from Brazil and other Latin American countries. Sixt has a strong franchise presence in Mexico, Latin America and the Caribbean, so it was only logical to add America as the largest piece of Sixt’s travel matrix puzzle in the region.
The local business is following, witnessed by the uptick in American travelers choosing Sixt at more domestic-oriented airports such as Ft. Lauderdale, Sixt says.
Sixt isn’t stopping with the Sunbelt. The company is looking to open in larger U.S. airports, especially those with high international traffic. Sixt is well aware that those openings don’t come easy, owing to locked-in concession agreements and a finite number of slots already filled by well-established companies.
Recently, the Hertz and Dollar Thrifty merger has accelerated on-airport opportunities, as a result of the Federal Trade Commission’s mandated divestiture of airport locations to resolve anticompetitive issues. Sixt isn’t ready to talk about specific bid possibilities. “Naturally we will examine [the opportunities] very carefully, and if the price is reasonable, yes we are candidates,” Sixt says.
Opening in Canada might happen down the road, especially in regards to franchise opportunities, though the United States is the focus for now.