It is widely accepted that the car rental industry was born in Chicago in 1918 with a dozen Model T Fords.
Thirty-seven years later, in 1955, the Car and Truck Renting and Leasing Association (CATRALA) was organized “to promote sound public policy with respect to the leasing and renting of motor vehicles without drivers.” At the same time, the American Automotive Leasing Association (AALA) was established to address a ruling that the IRS had made regarding capital gain treatments on the sale of used leased vehicles.
The two organizations worked together and met to discuss mutual problems and planned ways to solve legislative concerns. Howard Smith, executive secretary of CATRALA, said in 1962, “CATRALA was designed to avoid being an ordinary trade association. It has one prime goal: legislative concerns.”
In 1978, CATRALA dissolved and the American Car Rental Association (ACRA) and the Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) were formed while AALA continued to represent the automotive leasing companies.
According to Ken Elder, a retired Dollar Thrifty franchise owner in Washington, D.C. who had always been politically involved, the major car rental companies and a number of larger independents and franchise operators began sharing lunches and opinions about legislative issues that were affecting the industry in the late ’70s.
From those casual meetings, the attendees recognized a need for a national association that would share a unified voice.
ACRA Builds its Base
Jim Tennant, currently principal of the Tennant Group, was asked to join the newly formed ACRA in 1980. At the time, Tennant was president of Holiday Rent a Car International Inc., a car rental franchisor based in Florida. It was the association’s goal to represent as many operators as possible, so the association welcomed the smaller systems, companies and independents to join.
ACRA was growing but still needed some assistance to organize more effectively. In the early ’80s, Mike and Mary Payne, who ran a public relations firm, assisted Tennant with a Holiday Rent a Car convention and were subsequently hired to give ACRA the boost it needed.
In 1988 Jan Armstrong, from Merchants Associates, became executive director of ACRA. She remained with the association until it was disbanded in 1998.
Avis, National, Budget, Alamo, Dollar, Thrifty and Enterprise were corporate members of the association beginning in the ’80s. Frank Olsen, CEO of Hertz from 1977-1999, chose to pursue legislative concerns in-house and did not join ACRA.
Jim Shapiro, formerly the owner of the American International Rent a Car franchise system, recalls that from 1985, the association alternated the position of president every year between a corporate employee and a franchisee. Shapiro was president from 1992-1993.
Many CEOs and senior corporate executives steered ACRA through the ’90s, assuring that ACRA was a moving force in Congress; they included Don Himelfarb of Thrifty Car Rental, Gary Paxton of Dollar Rent a Car, Phil Schailer of Alamo Car Rental, Charles Bovino of Avis Rent a Car, and Sandy Miller, Roger Gelder and Bob Aprati of Budget Car Rental, as well as Wayne Kauffman from Enterprise.