Gregory Francois understands the ever-present need for car rental companies to keep costs down while maximizing revenue opportunities. That’s why he founded Gas Reclaimers Systems (GRS) – a company that removes the fuel from late model vehicles sitting in auction.
With over 20 years of experience in the car rental industry, Francois’ product is patent-pending and fully compliant with the strict air quality standards of local and state governments. He says he provides fast, friendly, courteous service while improving the customer’s bottom-line.
As general manager of over 10,000 rental cars at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Francois says that 80 percent of his cars were going back to the manufacturer full of gas. That meant he was losing close to 80,000 gallons a year. At $2 a gallon, LAX was losing at least $160,000 annually.
“When you are laying off people, that type of savings can save quite a few workers,” Francois says.
Based in Granada Hills, Calif., GRS is now operating in more than 20 cities nationwide and has extracted over three million gallons of gasoline – saving their customers a total exceeding three million dollars.
“Every location we open we meet with the local authorities – we have incorporated many of their suggestions into our design,” says Francois. “The thought is, if one person asks for it, others probably will also.”
Early in the development process of the gas reclaiming device, Francois says his team realized there was a serious barrier to making this idea a reality. Auto makers had developed technology that prevents anyone from entering the fuel tank through the filler neck. In order to reclaim the gas in the most efficient way, GRS had to create a method that would bypass these anti-siphon devices.
After several thousand dollars and hundreds of research hours, according to Francois, GRS developed a proprietary technique for safely removing the fuel, saving car rental companies thousands of dollars.
In March 2003, GRS began first servicing car rental companies at LAX. However, Francois began his research and development in April of 2002. He says it took him and his team a full year to design the reclamation machine and sell the concept to car rental companies. [PAGEBREAK] Vanguard was the first company to show serious interest in the services offered by GRS.
“Each of the major companies took at least three to six months researching our equipment and process,” Francois says. “It was a very hard sell at first; convincing the top management of our commitment to safety was key.”
Now, GRS also has contracts with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz Rent A Car, Dollar Thrifty Rent A Car, EZ Rent A Car, Advantage Rent A Car, U.S. Rent A Car and Fox Rent A Car.
Francois and his partners met with local air quality and fire authorities, “picked their brains for several months,” and eventually designed their first prototype in late 2002.
For two years GRS worked directly with the Air Quality Management District of Southern California. To date, the only mass-produced reclamation machines made in the United States are compliant with the California Air Resources Board’s criteria.
As members of the National Fire Protection Association, Francois’ crew has access to fire consultants and is constantly updated on changes in fire codes. In fact, GRS has input into new codes developed within the field.
Car rental companies that purchase the GRS equipment are also given a hotline number to discuss recent updates.
When GRS presented their fuel reclamation process to one major city’s local fire department, they sent 25 firemen and five trucks to ensure everyone’s safety.
“Talk about intimidating,” Francois says. “At the end of the presentation, the entire group gave me a standing ovation. Later that night I received three calls from firemen asking if they could buy my operation in that city – I knew we were doing something right at that point.”
Though GRS has used their reclamation machines to extract over three million gallons of gasoline without any incidents, Francois warns that there are major safety and environmental aspects to consider when choosing a company to reclaim your gas.
“Our goal is 100 percent compliance,” he says. “It’s not like choosing a PDR or windshield company.”
Francois’ reclaiming service requires no up-front cash lay-out from the customer. He says they provide the labor, state-of-the-art EPA compliant equipment, liability insurance and the efficient method for bypassing anti-siphon devices. [PAGEBREAK] Car rental companies tell GRS when to service their turn-back vehicles, and then the gas will be extracted from the cars without any out-of-pocket expense. A daily and month-end report is also provided, showing the number of cars serviced and the number of gallons returned to the car rental company’s holding fuel tank.
GRS charges by the gallon to remove the fuel. The price does not fluctuate with gas prices; they fix their price and lock it in for as long as their cost structure remains the same.
“Your gas is extracted from your turn-backs, returned to your tank and resold to your customers – all before you pay us,” Francois says.
Cost savings depends on the customer’s commitment, says Francois. Some locastions are saving thousands of dollars and have cut gas purchases by as much as 50 percent.
“At one location we filled a holding tank up and had to wait until they could remove some fuel before we started back up,” Francois says. “With the current gas prices, the numbers are huge.” [PAGEBREAK] One Customer’s Experience
As the director of airport concessions for Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Mike Souza employs Gas Reclaimers Systems’ services at both small and larger rental fleet locations.
Souza uses the services in two ways—by leasing the equipment and using DTAG employees to reclaim the fuel, or by contracting with GRS directly to come out to his locations. The choice is made based on fleet size and availability of GRS manpower in a market.
“From an efficiency standpoint, having [GRS] de-gas our vehicles makes more sense,” Souza says. “Yet I think the lease is better if you can force your operational people to work it into their process of turning back cars.”
The key to optimizing the return on investment is in the logistics, Souza says. As a service, operators should make sure plenty of vehicles are on hand to de-gas to optimize the trip. When the equipment is leased, employees need to be reminded to use it to cover the monthly fee. That’s not always easy when things get busy and cars are moving quickly, Souza warns.
Souza found it makes more sense to lease the equipment for fleet sizes more than 400 cars. If available, the on-site service works best for smaller fleets. He says Francois is working with him to tailor the best solution to the individual fleet.
Gaining approval from airport authorities can be a hassle initially. Yet Souza reports that Dollar Thrifty has been granted approval from most of the airports where they requested to conduct the service.
“In some cases the approval process was rather lengthy,” he says. “The initial walk-throughs were difficult, but Greg [Francois] helped us with that.”
The rental car company hasn’t experienced any safety or environmental issues from the fuel reclamation services, Souza says. Initially Souza was concerned that the machines could overflow if unattended. Francois worked with him to alleviate the problem.
“I told Greg that was going to be a problem for us, so they went and designed an automatic shut-off mechanism,” Souza says.