Rental car companies rev up some unusual connections to deal with a shifting transportation playing field
It’s an incremental move to be sure, but it could just spark a different kind of collaboration in the rental car industry in particular and the ground transportation business in general.
Hertz has forged an alliance with black car provider Blacklane to provide hybrid limo/car rental service to customers looking for more flexibility in ground transport options. ‘Hertz Driver Services powered by Blacklane’ is out to broaden the reach of business travelers by providing them with the specific kind of ground transport the mission mandates.
Blacklane CEO and co-founder Jens Wohltorf says a typical case-in-point might mean mingled modes. “Starting at JFK for a roundtrip London Heathrow journey there are at least four legs of ground transportation. You go from your home or office in a [professionally driven] Blacklane. When you arrive at Heathrow you’ll be met by a Blacklane.” Reverse the sequence on the return trip. So far, nothing new. But if you’re staying in city center London your business appointments are in the periphery of the city, “Those are scenarios where rental cars are actually nicely suited to serve.”
Wohltorf says the Hertz/Blacklane collaboration can be consummated “simply by the click of a button” on a smartphone. “You have the chance to get everything in one hand. Right now we’re in the process of deeply integrating our product with Hertz.”
Wohltorf declines to say how much incremental revenue the German-based limo provider envisions reaping from the collaboration but notes, “Hertz is the biggest car rental provider in the world. They have long-standing relationships with corporate customers, airlines and other distribution partners.”
Hertz and Blacklane initially rolled out the product in Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Spain and – perhaps most importantly – the United Kingdom.
This sort of worldwide reach is requisite to success. “Partnering with the global professional driver service provider Blacklane,” says Hertz International group president Michel Taride “allows us to offer increasingly comprehensive transportation solutions, catering to our customers’ specific travel needs at every stage of their journey.”
Just now, Hertz is Blacklane’s sole partner in this intra-modal play. But it may not stay that way. Wohltorf says, “We are engaging with more distribution partners, and other car rental companies as well. Blacklane’s ambition is to be on every shelf whenever travelers might book their next trip.”
He stops short of saying Uber and Lyft are in line for limousine liaisons. “We’re concentrating on a high-quality, comfortable ride. If you’re traveling for five miles, around the corner, you can live with not-so-great quality. But if you’re spending an hour or more in a car, from one city to another, you want to be driven by a professional driver in a comfortable, premium car.”
What Hertz and Blacklane are doing is getting attention. “Generally, [travel managers] are enthusiastic,” says Blacklane’s chief. Hertz’s competition is, varied in their assessment.
“Avis Budget Group is extremely interested and invested in crossover synergies,” says Beth Kinerk, the group’s vice president of sales. “We supply Uber’s driver partners, and those who want to make money driving with Uber.” This via Zipcar, billed a car sharing network.“
Working with other folks in the mobility arena, our goal is to be a mobility provider to all in the corporate space,” says Don Moore, vice president of global corporate sales for Enterprise Holdings, the parent of Enterprise, National and Alamo. “If there are avenues we need to pursue to partner with someone, then we would absolutely look at that.” However, Moore adds, “Personally I think we would like to do it on our own. We’re pretty good at it, but not naïve enough to think we can do everything by ourselves.”Insurance Issues
When Business Travel Executive asked its Buyer Think Tank members what they considered of prime importance in the ground transportation arena, insurance issues dominated the conversation.
If insurance is on the minds of corporate travel managers, it bedevils the car rental industry too. “I think the industry can say that liability is on the rise,” says Enterprise Holdings’ Don Moore. “Our repair costs are getting more expensive, because cars are getting more expensive to repair,” he explains.
An Opinium survey of some 2,000-plus car renters in the United Kingdom reveals “that over a third of car hirers do not realize that if they damage their hire car they are liable for the first part of any claim, i.e., the excess amount.” This is true, “even if the damage is not their fault or if the car is stolen.”
More findings of note from the UK survey:
• 60 percent of respondents are confused by the jargon attendant to car rental excess waiver insurance;
• 39 percent have purchased excess waiver insurance without knowing just what it covered;
• 46 percent of car renters buy excess waiver insurance;
• 26 percent of respondents said excess insurance was too pricey;
• 21 percent didn’t know they were liable;
• 21 percent “thought they were unlikely to cause damage.”
The UK is hardly alone when it comes to flummoxed travelers. “The fact is we operate in 90 different countries,” says Moore. That means 90 different sets of laws and insurance regulations to slog through. And that’s why it’s so critical to make sure the contract with the rental car provider is nailed down tight.
Citing privacy concerns, the Avis Budget Group says, “We cannot disclose information about corporate contracts; however, we work closely to deliver customized solutions to meet travelers’ mobility needs.”The Tech Factor
Enabling these collaborative mobility efforts, of course, is technology. ‘Launchpad’ is the name of Enterprise’s latest entry in the race. Pegged to the iPad, Moore says the technology essentially enables Enterprise to “to go where the customer needs us to be to deliver the car – all the information that comes in through Emerald Club or our loyalty program is pre-loaded into the reservations. We can meet the customer at their office or at home. They don’t need to come to our location. We can deliver the car so that all the information is in the system. And that technology has navigation on it so we know where we’re going to meet the customer.”
In fact, Launchpad’s flexibility transcends mere convenience, as evidenced in the aftermath of the recent rash of destructive hurricanes which pummeled parts of the United States.“In the past few months we were really able to utilize the Launchpad in our disaster recovery efforts,” says Enterprise Holdings spokeswoman Lisa Martini “We found that in Texas and, especially, Florida, when the power was out our folks were using their car chargers and have virtual branches. With our partners at FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the corporate customers we were helping, especially power companies, we were able to get them vehicles literally through virtual branches with the iPad technology,” Martini explains.
“We’ve been in the business of disaster recovery for many years, but this is the first opportunity to use the Launchpad.”
Further boosting Launchpad’s utility is the fact the iPad packs a built-in camera. “[When there are] damage issues with claims,” Moore says, “we can take pictures right there on-scene.”
It’s this need for speed, the expectation of consummate convenience that’s driving car rental high tech. Another case-in-point is Hertz’s mobile app, available for iPhone, iPad and Android. According to a prepared release, the app allows customers not just to modify and search reservations but to avoid the frustration that plagues business travelers at the end of a chock-a-block day when they go looking for their car – only to discover all the machines in an unfamiliar parking lot look disconcertingly alike. The app possesses a feature called “Find My Car.” It employs GPS tagging to lead lookers to the right vehicle.
Avis Budget Group sports a similar feature on their mobile app. In addition, their app also locates filling stations within a five-mile radius of the app, so renters don’t have to scout about in an unfamiliar city for a place to top off the tank before they hand in the car.
To get the business traveler underway faster at the beginning or conclusion of the trip, Hertz now offers electronic rental agreements. Pair this with expanded eReceipt and Express Return. The service is available at corporately-owned locations in the United States.
In a prepared release, Alex Marren, Hertz executive vice president of North American Rent A car Operations said, “By giving our customers the option to receive their rental information electronically, including their receipt, we’re making the pick-up and return experience faster and more streamlined.” And Marren added, “It also allows customers to access these documents anywhere, anytime.”Finding the Right Ride
Such service is certainly helpful. But don’t forget about the vehicles, specifically selection and availability. Avis Budget’s mobile app now offers better access to their range of cars, trucks, SUVs and such.
BTE’s Think Tank members said fleet management was one of their concerns – matching the right sort of car with the right customer at the right time of year in the proper place. Fleet management is as much art as it is science.
“There’s probably no way to make it easier – other than to have a lot of ears to the ground,” says Rob Connors, Enterprise Holdings’ vice president of brand marketing. “We have an incredible fleet department that really helps us stay ahead of the game. We work with all manufacturers to make sure we’re a bit ahead of the curve in understanding what our customers’ needs and wants are.”
In a travel sector where things are changing fast, Connors says that’s a significant consideration. “The last thing we want to do is be a year behind where our customers’ needs are. It’s a lot of legwork, a lot of conversations and a lot of really good folks keeping their ears to the ground.”
Where are fleets headed? “I don’t know that there’s a particular swing to a new type of vehicle,” says Connors. “What we keep our eyes on is what’s going into the vehicles these days. What’s new in technology, and how far ahead do we need to be to make sure we have the right stuff in there.”
The choice of specific vehicle types can be country and geographic-dependent. That said, Connors believes “Customers like to drive what they do at home.”
Adds Avis Budget Group’s Beth Kinerk, “We move our fleet to accommodate demand. Whether it’s for a business meeting, trade show or conference, peak summer travel or disaster relief recovery efforts, we know how to get the right cars to the right places.”
A decidedly different kind of car looms just over the hill ahead. “Fleet management is a core competency,” says Hertz’ Bob Stuart, EVP of global sales. That competency “will be advantageous in the advent of autonomous driving.” Such is the forward planning that’s required to keep the car rental customers of the future satisfied.