As more Americans are getting vaccinated and starting to travel again, many travelers are facing a rental car shortage and accompanying sticker shock at the daily rates. The national media is taking notice.
Multiple news reports note that rental companies sold a big portion of their fleets to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic, and they’re still being cautious about increasing their staff and vehicles.
"The rental car companies basically went into survival mode," Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of autoslash.com, told ABC7. "Their business was down about 90% and they had to sell off as many cars as they could. The demand came roaring back, and the rental car companies didn't have enough vehicles to satisfy the demand.”
Rental car prices have increased 30% nationally and as high as 300% in some places, according to a report by the New York Post.
Currently, warm-weather destinations like Florida, Hawaii, California, Texas, and Arizona are seeing the greatest demand and the highest prices.
A survey of car rental companies showed daily fees for modest vehicles in high-demand areas as more than $300 a day, while some especially affected regions — like the Gulf Coast, southern California, Florida, and the Carolinas — saw fees more than $500 a day in March, according to a report by Auto Week.
At the start of 2021, many rental car companies moved their inventory to high-travel spots like Florida to help serve travelers in the spring, but even the increase in vehicles fell short in certain areas.
One area is Florida’s Tampa-St. Petersburg region. Rental rates are hitting as high as $489 a day for weekend rentals from Tampa airport, according to a report by the Orlando Sentinel.
“As you get into March and April, people start to head back north,” Weinberg told the Orlando Sentinel. “Eventually the demand is going to turn and it’s going to happen very quickly.”
Rental companies are looking to add more vehicles back to their fleets, but there have been challenges with buying new cars. Several automobile factories shut down at the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Orlando Sentinel. And there is a global shortage of microchips due to the pandemic and the ice storm in Texas that shut down manufacturing. These chips are needed in new cars, which has limited new inventory.
Due to the lack of rental cars, peer-to-peer carsharing companies like Turo are seeing an increase in business. “Our hosts are telling us that their businesses are booming due to a surge in travel and sky-high rental car prices,” Turo CEO Andre Haddad wrote in a statement to the Orlando Sentinel.
Enterprise Holdings spokeswoman Lisa Martini said that she anticipates the increase in car rentals to continue in the coming months.
“We are working closely with our manufacturing partners to continue to add vehicles to our fleet to meet the demand,” Martini told The Washington Post. “We also are leveraging our large network of neighborhood and airport locations to move vehicles where possible to support regional spikes in demand.”