Auto Focus

Assessing the Plusses and Minuses of Today’s Market

Ricky Beggs presents at the Auto Rental Summit's Fleet Jam Session, which also included a panel discussion on fleet funding, sales and remarketing. Photo by Amy Winter
Ricky Beggs presents at the Auto Rental Summit's Fleet Jam Session, which also included a panel discussion on fleet funding, sales and remarketing. Photo by Amy Winter

Industry events are the best places to collect the knowledge I need in a compact time frame to stay current on trends and the overall market. I think car rental operators understand this, too, judging from the 260 car rental professionals that descended on the Auto Rental Summit this week at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Fla.

After two days of information collecting, both data driven and anecdotal, I’ve parsed this analysis of the market into the good (+), bad (-) and neutral (=).

+ When it comes to buying and selling, the market seems to be in a sane place, according to information presented at our first-ever Fleet Jam Session, led by Ricky Beggs, editor and executive vice president of Black Book. OEMs are managing incentives not with cash on the hood but more through subsidized leasing, which helps maintain residuals. While the OEMs have been fairly disciplined in building to demand, there are some “pockets of over-supply” that, at least for now, might represent a good buying opportunity.

+ New car sales topped out at 15.6 million in 2013, 1 million more units than 2012. This year is shaping up to 16.4 million units. Black Book is predicting 2015 to come in at 16.7 million units, an expected slowdown on our path back to historical normalcy.

= Consumer leasing is creeping back up and now stands at 25% of total registrations. While we’ve been dealing with the specter of lease returns for a few years now, this year only about 300,000 more trades came in over last year. That’s not high enough for worry, said Beggs. Moreover, consignors are more willing to move cars to areas of the country that offer better sales returns. Seattle and Texas are hot markets right now.

+ Looking at residual value performance over 12 months, depreciation has held up compared to last year (in fact, this October fared better than last). However, rental consignors should keep an eye on individual segments’ performance. It’s great news for those renting trucks and vans, as those segments are markedly outperforming cars. Vans are the rock stars, owing to supply slowdowns on the changeover to the new European-style vans, and also the notion that contractors still like the old-school Ford E-Series and GM vans and their favorable operations costs.

- But popular rental segments aren’t faring well, particularly compact cars (ranked 22nd out of 24 segments) and entry midsize (23rd out of 24). Those are crowded and competitive segments, and cheap fuel isn’t helping.

- Recalls continue to be a problem. “The sheer number of them has been overwhelming,” said Charlie Mullen of ACE. Repair delays are most due to parts delays, said Mike Muehlenfeld of Mile Fleet. Craig Goodman of VRCG has been at auction when major consignors have had to pull cars off the auction block to fix a recall issue. Other operators complained about recalls throughout the Summit.

- In 2010, we got comfortable with 48,000- to 50,000-mile rental units. Those miles dipped as supply ramped up coming out of the Recession. We’re back to high-mileage units at auction — upward of 70,000 miles — most coming from Hertz as it continues to work through its oversupply issues. This is leaving a dearth of units in the 15,000- to 40,000-mile range. Kudos to the consignors able to fill that void, though most aren’t able to right now.

- Extended delivery times of new cars have been an issue, said Mullen of ACE.

+ While physical auctions are still the backbone of remarketing, direct-to-dealer and online multiplatform selling channels continue to gain larger shares of the pie (and offer better returns). Additionally, smart operators are thinking like consignors on the new car side and understand that options such as sunroofs, rims and leather will pay off at sales time.

+ According to Mark Bohannon of Nextgear, the banks are reasonably flexible on lending these days.

- In the session “Are You Mobile Yet?” the panelists’ main point was all car rental companies need to have mobile apps, and presented statistics to show that the world is indeed moving at an even quicker pace into managing life on a smartphone and tablet. (In a different session, Paul Allison of Express Internet Technologies pointed out that 30% of bookings on CarRentalExpress.com are done on mobile devices.) And yet when I surveyed the audience to see which operators had mobile apps, only two responded positively — and one was from Avis Budget corporate.

+ Just when you think consolidation was ending, we’ve seen a new round of buyouts of successful independents and franchises. But I was heartened to see the “new blood” at the Summit, both from the operator and vendor side. European-based Green Motion is actively expanding in the U.S. and is a prime example of how exploiting a niche (environmentally-friendly rental cars) is the best way to gain traction. New vendors — such as Tire Shield, a lock that prevents the stealing of spare tires — are excited about the market. That’s good news for us. Overseas interest in our events continues to grow.

- In his session, Paul Allison pointed out that websites for independent car rental operators are lacking in key areas: an unclear to non-existent brand message, thin content including few blog posts and a lack of understanding of social network. “Don’t underestimate social,” he said. “There’s a dialogue out there and you have an opportunity to control that dialogue.”

= Looking market to market, the competition between established companies and upstarts seems to be heating up, yet in general, there’s business to be had for everyone. There are two caveats: in tourist markets, increased competition hurts during low season. Operators in other areas complained that the uneducated upstarts are willing to undercut the market with needlessly low rates.

+ Unemployment stands at 5.8%; it’s lowest rate since the start of the Recession.

- Yet when it comes to car rental, data from job sites such as Indeed and Glassdoor.com show that a gap is growing between eligible, experienced candidates and job postings. The job postings are growing, but the eligible candidates are not. It seems the industry is not doing a good enough job to promote opportunity in car rental.

- Tuesday morning, we received the results of J.D. Power and Associate’s annual North American Car Rental Satisfaction Study. Overall satisfaction dipped — by only a point — but particularly troubling is the fact that overall wait times in the car rental process have been extended to 43.4 minutes.

Dr. Craig Manning delivered the Summit’s keynote. A key takeaway was the idea that doing what you love has a direct correlation to high performance. It’s clear that folks who were motivated to come thousands of miles to South Florida are doing what they love — and that gives me hope that the negatives in this analysis are indeed fixable. Indeed, those negatives are within operators’ control.

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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