ST. LOUIS -- Despite congested highways and high gas prices, more Americans are renting automobiles in their neighborhoods to meet a variety of lifestyle and transportation needs, according to a new national survey commissioned by Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
The survey, titled "Poll of the American Driver," found that about one-third of drivers 25 years and older (an estimated 62 million Americans) need an additional or different vehicle than their primary one and are more likely to rent to meet that need.
Nearly half of survey respondents (46%) said they are more likely to rent an automobile for personal use when a rental car location is near their neighborhood -- a 20% increase from 1995. The rental car industry is meeting this need through a steady expansion into neighborhoods.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the industry leader in this market, has more than doubled its U.S. neighborhood locations to 5,700 from 2,400 in the past 10 years. Enterprise said it has a neighborhood location within 15 miles of 90% of the U.S. population.
Meanwhile, Avis and Hertz Local Edition are also expanding their presence in the neighborhood market.
Cars rented in the local market meet a variety of lifestyle needs, such as driving the kids' sports team to its weekend games, hauling landscaping or home improvement materials, upgrading to a more reliable vehicle for a weekend getaway, or simply adding a vehicle to the driveway for an out-of-town visitor.
The poll also revealed that a majority of Americans (54%) would prefer to rent vehicles than borrow them.
"The proliferation of rental car locations in neighborhoods has positioned renting to replace the concept of borrowing cars from family and friends," said automotive pop culture expert Dr. Michael Marsden, who has studied and analyzed societal trends related to the automobile for decades. "With a location usually right around the corner, it's very convenient and affordable to temporarily swap whatever vehicle you usually drive for a rental that meets a specific need.
"This evolution in the consumer-car relationship is very logical," added Marsden, dean and academic vice president at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis. "We always have needs for different automobiles; they are there during every important moment in our lives, beginning with the day we're driven home from the hospital to the day we get married, among others. Now we have convenient access to the appropriate vehicle for all of our lifestyle needs."
Customers first came to know Enterprise as the rental car company that provided replacement vehicles when cars were being serviced or repaired, said Steve Short, vice president of consumer development for Enterprise. "In recent years, though, it became obvious that more and more customers were coming back to our neighborhood branches and renting cars for a variety of other personal reasons," Short said.
For the past several years, Enterprise has opened an average of one neighborhood location per day.
The survey found that consumers enjoy being behind the wheel as much as they did 10 years ago, with 84% of motorists saying they love or like driving. That's about equal to the 82% who had the same response in 1995 when the survey was first fielded.
"The Poll of the American Driver" surveyed 500 U.S. licensed drivers 25 years of age and older. The sampling error associated with the research is no more than plus or minus four percentage points.