The International Car Rental Show (ICRS) could be likened to every holiday and family reunion rolled into one — there’s meticulous planning, plenty of stress, and inevitable bickering between “family members,” but it all culminates in strengthened relationships, new understandings, and the passing of knowledge from wise ones to the novices. And of course, Vegas, baby!
This year more than ever, the extended family had a lot to discuss over cocktails, networking, education, and exhibit hall interaction. Two years ago, the circulating joke was, “Let’s not talk about driverless cars.”
Today, the topic is unavoidable. Yes, autonomy and a driverless future were discussed — though the great majority of the conversations focused on the shifting dynamics in transportation happening right now.
A Path Forward
The opening keynote, titled “Car Rental and the Future of Mobility,” was a panel comprised of North Holbrook of Volvo, Mark Thomas of RideCell, and Dan Langford of the Nevada Center for Advanced Mobility (Nevada CAM). The panel addressed how changes in transportation models would affect car rental, and how operators should position themselves to take advantage.
One theme that ran through the keynote and elsewhere was that while technology is enabling new models that are challenging traditional ones, it is also facilitating ways for standard car rental companies to streamline traditional processes through “on-demand rentals” — without reinventing the wheel.
Among many topics and trends, the keynote panel discussed three developments to keep an eye on: “asset light” lifestyles, Mobility as a Service (MaaS), and auto manufacturers as service providers.
As populations continue to migrate to cities, they adopt asset-light lifestyles and shun car ownership. Yet, they still need transportation. Car rental is poised to take advantage as one mode of the transportation spectrum.
The intent of MaaS is to connect various modes, including public transportation, carsharing, ride hailing, biking, and standard car rental under one user account. Car rental should be aware of municipalities’ role in these public/private partnerships, the panelists said.
Carmakers have now become service providers with their numerous mobility initiatives — which include not only carsharing but group leases, ride sharing, and fleet solutions — though the jury is still out on whether carmakers want to manage these offerings on a grand scale.
One path would be for car rental companies to leverage their expertise in fleet management to partner with OEMs in these new service offerings. These types of partnerships could also include small businesses, which know how to manage fleet and engage their local customer base.
Across the Globe
As ICRS welcomes international car rental providers, the theme of “mobility” weaved its way through presentations concerning transportation issues in growing urban environments across the globe.
In the Latin American Meeting, Paulo Gaba of FENALOC, the Brazilian car rental association, revealed the problems in Sao Paulo: getting through the airport is a hassle, traffic cameras deliver electronic fines, parking is expensive, and driving after one beer could result in arrest. In this environment, ride hailing makes sense.
However, “Brazil is an extremely regulated transportation market, but Uber is hardly regulated,” Gaba said.
In another Latin American seminar, Javier Garcia of Mex Rent-A-Car echoed Gaba’s points on the lack of transportation options in the Mexico City megalopolis. This has fueled Uber’s growth, though with a similar lack of regulation compared to traditional modes.
While regulations are lacking in some areas, seemingly draconian ones are forcing new solutions in others: While Helsinki is considering banning all cars except electric ones, no diesel cars will be allowed to enter Paris starting in 2020. Sao Paulo and Bogota, Colombia, have similar emissions restrictions. Learning that a London driver loses 101 hours a year in traffic, the impetus for change becomes clear.
For Europcar — part of the ICRS agenda for the first time — these restrictions represent opportunity. Europcar’s Marcus Bernhardt presented the company’s various mobility initiatives, which include app-based door-to-door delivery, all-electric carsharing, and a corporate ride-hailing service.
Europcar even has its own incubator, Europcar Lab, where “young innovators are sitting on the floor and drawing on the walls,” said Bernhardt, “to understand the future.”
Wes Hurst and Leslie Pujo addressed new mobility solutions from the legal, liability, and regulatory standpoints. They conveyed the idea of taking cautious steps with new business models. “Stay in your lane, but keep up with technology that improves your processes and customer experience,” said Pujo.
In this arena today, there are more questions than answers. Continuing Gaba and Garcia’s theme, “Laws and insurance rules always lag behind when new business models are instituted,” said Hurst.
Solutions for Today
As the general sessions at this year’s ICRS took a look forward, the concurrent seminars dove into how car rental operators can streamline their businesses and boost revenues right now.
While assessing technology and ensuring proper implementation is a growing concern today, many seminars offered solutions that involved little to no expense.
In an era when technology encroaches into every facet of business life, it is refreshing to understand that there are still traditional, no-cost, evergreen solutions to incorporate that can make a difference.
In the closing general seminar, Mary Ann Sena-Edelen of MGM Resorts recounted how a recent rental transaction broke down in many facets of the experience.
However, when she pulled up to the guard gate to exit the rental lot, the checkout employee engaged her with a smile and was helpful with directions and information on services.
“That little bit of human engagement just about overcame all my negative experiences up to that point," she said.