The U.S. car rental industry achieved overall revenues of $28.1 billion in 2021 — a 21% gain over the pandemic year of 2020, according to data collected by Auto Rental News. The total represents the largest year-over-year revenue gain in recorded history after a precipitous fall of 27.4% in 2020 over pre-pandemic 2019, which notched record revenues of $32 billion.
The U.S. car rental industry reached this revenue on only 1.8 million cars in service, which produced a record average revenue per unit, per month (RPU) of $1,320. This represents a more than 11% increase over average RPU of $1,174 in 2019, a major jump after years of only incremental gains.
Sales to car rental are expected to be only 811,000 units in 2021 — the lowest in 20 years and the result of the global supply chain crisis provoked by the extreme shortage of semiconductor chips.
“After the global pandemic brought travel to a standstill, followed by a recovery that was hamstrung by the unprecedented constriction of vehicle supply, it is remarkable that the industry reached $28.1 billion in 2021,” said Chris Brown, executive editor of Auto Rental News. “This record jump in revenues, along with record RPU, demonstrates the industry’s ability to manage through a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.”
“These metrics are even more notable in that important sectors for car rental — international inbound and corporate travelers — remain well below pre-pandemic levels,” Brown continued, adding that the industry has been able to grow other segments, including b-to-b rentals, family road trippers, insurance replacements, and long-term neighborhood customers.
The industry’s 2021 performance saw record earnings from Avis Budget Group and stronger-than-expected earnings from Hertz as it exited bankruptcy and relisted on Nasdaq. (Enterprise Holdings is privately held.)
This performance was driven partly by the rebound in demand, though predominantly by the extraordinary used car market. The vehicle supply crisis drove the Manheim Index, the industry’s leading barometer of wholesale pricing trends, to ever-escalating records in 2021.
Car rental companies enjoyed average prices of almost $24,000 for de-fleeted risk units by the end of October, a 50% increase over the same period in 2019. Prices are de-escalating somewhat but should stay buoyant on constricted supply through 2022.