It’s been seven years since I first joined the board of directors of the American Car Rental Association (ACRA) and six since I was elected president.
Fortunately, ACRA is stronger than it has ever been and will continue to represent the industry in taking on its challenges. As I leave office, I thought it appropriate to reflect on some of the changes we experienced:
Hertz Corporation acquired Dollar Thrifty. After a nearly two-year process, the transaction was completed in the fall of 2012, reducing the number of publicly traded companies to only Hertz and Avis Budget.
Avis Budget acquired Zipcar and Payless. The industry landscape continued to evolve as the Zipcar acquisition put Avis Budget into the hourly car rental/neighborhood market. The Payless acquisition let the company enter the value segment as well.
Enterprise acquired Alamo/National and started franchising in Europe. The 2007 acquisition caught many off guard as Enterprise moved into the airport market in a big way. In a major departure from its operating model, Enterprise expanded into Europe via acquisitions and franchising.
Sixt came to North America. The borders began to blur as one of Europe’s largest operators opened company locations and started franchising in America.
Denny Hecker was imprisoned. The flamboyant car dealer/operator lost everything and put a black eye on the industry, causing significant hardship to many around him.
Franchise Services of North America acquired Advantage and filed for bankruptcy after one year of operations. Sometimes private equity is just not the answer.
Hertz launched Firefly and returned to the value brand segment after divesting Advantage. In only one year, the brand expanded throughout Europe and Mexico and opened 19 locations in America.
Fox, ACE and Economy grew affiliate programs. In a departure from the more traditional franchise model, expansion came via international and dometic growth.
Residual values skyrocketed and eased off; SAAR collapsed and rebounded; Chrysler and GM filed for bankruptcy and nearly impaired the car rental industry as a whole. As we have consistently seen, the fundamentals of our industry are dramatically impacted by the manufacturers.
Credit enhancements climbed as high as 35% after being as low as 10%, impacting everyone in the industry and the ability to borrow and properly fleet. “Too big to fail” hit not only the financial system, but Detroit as a whole. The impact trickled down through auto industry suppliers and the car rental industry.
Prepaid reservations and deposits moved to center stage throughout the industry. Although not as disciplined as the hotel or airline industries, the industry began to take prepaid reservations as a way to mitigate the costs of no-shows.
For the first time in more than 20 years, all of the major car rental companies belong to ACRA. Probably the one thing I am the most proud of is the industry turning the corner and starting to work as a whole on issues of regulation and taxation.
ACRA helped change Arizona from a primary liability state to secondary, and defeated a living wage battle in the state of Washington. The industry rallied together to tackle significant issues impacting all of us and our ability to operate.
The Car Rental Show grows to more than 800 attendees from every corner of the globe; keynote speeches are given by Hertz, Avis Budget and Enterprise. Record attendance and some of the best seminars ever promote the overall strength of the industry. Delegations from China, Korea and Brazil attend en masse.
We’ve lost many who have had a major impact in our industry. In particular, we lost Elaine Litwer, who relentlessly fought to eliminate vicarious liability in New York, and Michael LaPlaca, who can simply be described as the legal guardian of car rental.
I am sure I missed many headlines, but there will be many more coming. Overall, we can acknowledge that while this industry has its highs and lows, it is one whose members are extremely passionate and see the status quo as simply not acceptable. We are in an incredibly dynamic industry and one that many of you love as much as, if not more, than I do.
It has been a privilege to serve as a board member and president of ACRA. With Sharon Faulkner (who I think the world of) remaining as executive director, and the board and its new president being as committed to the industry as I was, I am confident the association will continue to prosper with your support, help and involvement.
See you on the road…
The opinions and commentary expressed in this editorial are personal to Mr. Barton and are neither representative nor associated with the American Car Rental Association or Mr. Barton’s employer.