Smaller Rental Firm Sees Market Niche in Younger Renters

Ben Bennani, owner of AA Car Rental in Orange County, Calif., sees drivers ages 18 to 20 as a pool of potential customers just waiting to be noticed, as the larger agencies typically do not rent to younger drivers, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The big companies shun this age group because U.S. drivers aged 18 to 20 are much more likely to be involved in accidents, according to the Los Angeles Times. Ensuring that the cars come back in decent condition was more of an issue with this group than with the typical corporate renter, Bennani realized.

He offers safety tips and imposes restrictions on how far his younger customers can drive, usually 100 miles. If they exceed their limit, he will make a note in their files and threaten them with a ban.

Renters who return his cars in pristine condition are rewarded with a $20 gift certificate to a French restaurant and a free limo ride home. One of his early youthful drivers had a wreck; since then, he said, it has been smooth sailing.

Renting a car typically requires a credit card—something many young people don't have. Bennani requires a security deposit that can be hundreds of dollars, which is charged either to the renter's credit card or to the card of a friend or relative.

Drivers in the 18-to-20 bracket account for about one-quarter of Bennani's business, and he plans to add the word "teens" to the company nameplate when he renews his business license next year. And despite his emphasis on safety, Bennani plays to the automotive preferences of younger drivers. His small fleet of 15 cars includes a 2004 Honda Accord coupe with tinted windows and massive speakers mounted in the trunk.

Car-sharing firms such as Flexcar and Zipcar, which specialize in hourly rental programs, are also pitching their services to young urban dwellers and college students.

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