A shorter version of this column appears in the 2024 Auto Rental News Fact Book
The first time I tried to rent a car, I contacted three rental companies. I needed a car to get from an airport in Florida to a job interview 50 miles away.
They all turned me down. I had just turned 24 years old.
That was the problem, I learned. The major auto rental companies at airports did not rent to us young adults under the age of 25 due to the collective accident and insurance risk, thanks mostly to the males.
In my immature way of thinking, I chalked it up to age discrimination. I was six years into legal adulthood, after all. How dare they treat seasoned young people like this!
Fortunately, my job interviewer drove the distance to pick me up, and a week later, I was offered the job. And the “age discrimination” soon took care of itself, as the next birthday forever pushed me out of the 18-24 age demographic. I’ve never had another issue renting a car.
Fast forward a few decades, and I can say as the new managing editor of Auto Rental News, I’ve gained a far more informed and favorable second impression of the car rental industry.
That happened at my first official industry event: The American Car Rental Association’s annual legislative and lobbying conference, in Washington, D.C. Oct. 22-25. The crash course provided useful information as I heard industry leaders and experts dissect the challenges of running rental car operations.
Their insights and comments reminded me of my previous role in the media world, where I worked as the top editor of the leading B2B global media brand for what is loosely known as the limousine and luxury ground transportation industry.
Luxury transportation intersects with the high-end, or “UHNW” (ultra-high net worth), business and leisure travelers, private charter aviation clients, the Hollywood entertainment industry and celebrity movers, five-star hotel concierges, Fortune 500 CEOs, and all types of VIPs and athletes. Paris Hilton, too, as one chauffeur once told me about an unmerciful night driving her around L.A. — when she was in her mid-20s.
The limousine industry also serves a middle-class customer segment, reserving stretches or party buses for weddings, proms, birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, date nights out, and myriad special occasions.
While car rental and limo are two distinct transportation sectors, I realized several connections between the two while at the ACRA conference. Both roll metal on the ground 24/7, providing a vital and valued form of transportation that meets a wide array of traveling needs. In the luxury sector, it’s also a matter of security for many travelers, not only a high-end preference.
Both industries also strive to satisfy and accommodate customers with attentive, flexible service. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work in getting people where they need to go. A rental car can be a godsend in many unforeseen circumstances.
I also see similar challenges in that a fleet, at times, can become a target for trouble and incur a level of risk. Those require street-smart businesspeople who know how to maneuver tough situations and take precautions that prevent and deter bad behavior.
Owners and operators in each industry also must confront the more macro-matters of new vehicle supply and costs, maintenance and repair, insurance premiums, resale values, fleet electrification – all stacked against the wider economic and marketplace impacts.
It all reminds me of how running a big fleet business with so many moving people and parts requires sacrifices not apparent to the public who enjoys the ease and convenience of renting a car or reserving a limo. Some of the luxury limousine operators, for example, told me some people think they are as rich as many of the big names they drive.
On the business spectrum of Main Street to Wall Street America, I would include the auto rental sector in what I call Real Street America, where a business owner must be practical and precise in handling business as it’s lived, and not just by the book.
Thanks to my stellar second impression, I look forward to working with another down-to-earth, miles-driven industry that connects people to destinations worldwide.