Can we as an industry band together for a common cause?

This question was posed again and again to more than 400 industry professionals attending the 2008 Car Rental Show March 31-April 1 at the Las Vegas Hilton.

This year, the rallying cry was not only to continue battling unfair excise taxes, but to consider other issues affecting the industry as a whole: cancellation fees, car class standardization, the public perception of car rental, new metrics to measure the health of the industry and, of course, rate sanity.

Keynotes: Insights from the Inside

The keynote speakers, heralding from various corners of the industry, propelled the theme of a unified call to action while giving insight into the future of car rental.

BILL CONNORS of the National Business Travel Association opened the show with an outlook on business travel.

NBTA predicts an increase in travel spending in the car rental sector of 5-7 percent for 2008, Connors reported. NBTA predicts that travel will continue to grow faster than overall GDP, though consumer and business travel behavior is altering in the face of rising air fares, hotel rates and high gasoline prices.

“The media loves to hear the bad news and doesn’t often print the good news,” Connors said. “However, most of the news is pretty positive in our sector.”

SEAN BUSKING, director of the American Car Rental Association, presented the “good, the bad and the ugly” in this year’s excise tax fight.

Wins include the defeat of a $15 car rental fee to fund a light rail system in Southern Wisconsin. However, 71 potential new excise taxes are being monitored.

Incoming ACRA President BOB BARTON of U-Save Car & Truck Rental challenged attendees to consider adopting standards for car classifications and implement reservations deposits. [PAGEBREAK] TOM KONTOS of ADESA gave the 10,000-foot view of the used car market.

While domestic manufacturers’ sales to rental fleets continue to decline, the Japanese and Korean marques have picked up some of the slack.

Kontos said the present soft remarketing environment makes it tougher to sell risk units. He predicts an oversupply of off-lease vehicles and repo units will compete with risk units in the auction lane this spring.

SANDY MILLER of U-Save Car & Truck Rental presented the closing keynote. Miller gave an ESPN-style “on-the-clock” rundown of the major brands.

Miller called out the numerous detrimental practices that have beset the auto rental industry. He cited guaranteed reservations, predatory city surcharges and use taxes, high credit card processing rates, barriers to airport entry, the free upgrade mindset and the lack of access to the insurance replacement market, among others.

He put forth the need for alternate benchmarks for Wall Street analysts to evaluate the industry such as a greater emphasis on growth in yield over transactional growth and same store sales.

After each he involved the crowd to shout, “Cut it out!”

Dropping the Knowledge

The seminars and workshops ran the gamut from “how to” business tips to a big picture view of controlling costs.

MICHAEL LAPLACA AND MICHAEL TOWERS teamed up again to show how to collect claims to the fullest extent permitted by state law.

In his usual lively form, ROGER BERNSKOETTER roused the audience with a sing-along game-show as he imparted sound fleet management techniques. [PAGEBREAK] DAVE FUNSTON’S panel assembled representatives from the industry’s major financing companies to give operators new and creative funding solutions.

JERRY COPELAN invited facility designer DONNA CANALE from TranSystems Corp. and JERRY TRAYLOR from McCarran International Airport to present a primer on airport operations and consolidated car rental facilities.

DAVE PURINTON of PurCo used customer service experiences from other industries to better understand and shape customer expectations in car rental.

CHRIS MCINTYRE used his EagleRider experience to give tips on how to build a niche and market effectively on the Internet.

KEN STELLON gave a blueprint for effective hiring and tips on recruiting “Gen Y.”

Those in the technology session learned about a new language translation service and Carfax’s introduction to rental fleets.

DENNY HECKER sat in on the cost containment panel along with FRANK DANKOVICH, Hecker’s new senior vice president at Rosedale Leasing and TAMMY FLOSI of Sonoran National Insurance.

“The car rental industry needs to gravitate toward keeping money for no-shows,” Hecker said. “Giving the customer the ability to shop until they’re in the car is creating a downward spiral.”

Show Floor Highlights

On the show floor, attendees networked with industry peers and interacted with the products and services of more than 40 exhibiting vendors.

The Advantage/EagleRider booth generated a buzz with its hot Harleys, a siren-red Lamborghini and booth babes, while the talk centered on Denny Hecker buying a 5 percent stake in Dollar Thrifty. [PAGEBREAK] Those that left the clubs at home played virtual golf at the PriceWaterhouseCoopers booth. The truly adventurous piloted a Segway Scooter courtesy of PurCo Fleet Services.

Attendees were also treated to a wine tasting and a martini bar while being serenaded by flamenco-inspired guitar music.

Honoring the Best

SEAN BUSKING presented DICK RADZIS of Ace Rent A Car with the ACRA President’s Award.

DAN EWALD of Mayfair Rent-A-Car received ACRA’s Member of the Year Award. Ewald was instrumental in helping defeat the Southern Wisconsin light rail system fee.

SHARON FAULKNER, a Dollar/Thrifty licensee in Albany, N.Y., and longtime ACRA/ACTIF board member, received the Russell Bruno Award for outstanding service to the car industry.

Faulkner has served on numerous boards, including ACRA and ACTIF, has appeared before Congress regarding vicarious liability reform and was instrumental in resolving New York’s CDW issue.

“As much as I’ve tried to help the industry, the industry has also helped me,” Faulkner said. “I’ve had such tremendous support, not just other ACRA members, but from vendors. They’ve helped me become successful, as have my fellow board members, whom I consider friends.”

In an emotional tribute to a car rental pioneer, JIM TENNANT of the Tennant Group presented a lifetime achievement award to JANE MUDGETT in honor of her father, FRED MUDGETT.

The crowd—including licensees and independent operators who can thank Mudgett for the health of their business—responded with a standing ovation.